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U.S. elections could use a forceful personality like Teddy Roosevelt again

Col. Theodore Roosevelt

Every two years at this time, it seems that the media and voters themselves lament the candidate campaigns, political parties, money-driven special-interest contributions, and divisive rhetoric.

What I note most about 2014 is the lack of big issues and big personalities. Call it a PCS or patriotic charisma shortage.

Watching all of Ken Burns’ PBS series “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” gave me pause, especially as we learned much more about U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt.

TR’s 60-year life (1858–1919) was one of constant activity, immense energy and enduring accomplishments even if the accomplishments were not as sweepingly significant as those of his fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were during the Great Depression and World War II.

Spirit of adventure, love of the outdoors

Roosevelt’s exploits as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War and as a cowboy in the Dakota Territory defined for Americans a spirit of adventure and love of the outdoors.

As the 26th president of the United States, Teddy was the wielder of the Big Stick, the builder of the Panama Canal, an avid conservationist who preserved millions of acres of American wilderness. It was the blueblood TR who, ironically, became the nemesis of the corporate trusts that threatened to monopolize American business. He was, truly, the first of our modern day U.S. presidents, including a number who followed him with decidedly isolationist views.

Roosevelt wrote more letters to fellow politicians and American citizens than any other president, Burns claims, in addition to authoring three dozen books on topics as different as the winning of the west, naval history, African big game, social justice and letters to his children.

‘A strenuous life’

Whatever his interest, TR pursued it with zeal. This was the basis for living and espousing what he termed a “strenuous life” for both individuals and the nation. 

Roosevelt’s engaging personality enhanced a worldwide popularity. In 1906 he became the first American to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his statesmanlike work bringing about the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the long running Russo-Japanese War.

TR remains relevant and larger than life today. His “Square Deal” commitment to a new capitalism combined with bold, sometimes controversial ideas about social justice and representative democracy defined a new America and significantly shaped its national character in what became known as “the American Century.”

TR continued to be colorfully newsworthy in retirement, especially during the historic Bull Moose campaign of 1912, while pursuing what proved to be an elusive third presidential term after being four years out of office.  

Not always right, but never timid

Time has shown that TR was not always right but, as he said in “The Man in the Arena” speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910 that “his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

American elections could use a forceful national personality like Teddy Roosevelt again to help bring about a solution to our PCS woes.

Chuck Slocum [Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com] is the president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm.  He is a former state chair of the Minnesota Republican Party.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/08/2014 - 08:32 am.

    Be careful what you wish for

    Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has no shortage of “patriotic charisma,” and many Russians can’t get enough of him, and his vision for their country.

    The rest of the world? Not so much.

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