Guest Column: Bush and TR: Study in contrasts

Guest Column: Bush and TR: Study in contrasts

By James Baldwin

Some local officials are hopeful that President Bush will attend the 100th birthday celebration of Memorial Hall on June 3. They would like him to come sometime that month if not on the actual date. If the president shows, it has been suggested that he would be following in the steps of President Theodore Roosevelt, who dedicated the hall 100 years ago for veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

Following in the steps of Theodore Roosevelt? Hardly.

While at Harvard, Roosevelt was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and began to write his Naval History of the War of 1812, which was published in 1882. A bit later, he wrote his four-volume Winning of the West, published 1889-1896.

When war broke out, Roosevelt helped organize a regiment of cavalry. Roosevelt became commanding colonel of these Rough Riders, and served with distinction in Cuba. The other chose to avoid military service and used his family’s influence to be accepted in the Texas National Guard.

While Roosevelt went after powerful corporations and vigorously enforced the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the other was carried into office by corporate extravagance. While one brought anti-trust actions against giants Standard Oil and DuPont, the other catered to the likes of Enron.

While Roosevelt urged Congress to enact labor-friendly statutes, including child labor laws and workmen’s compensation, the other killed the Labor Department’s ergonomics rule, which would have protected workers against repetitive-stress injuries.

Roosevelt focused on the preservation of America’s natural resources. He withdrew from development more than 200 million acres of forestland. The other advocates mountaintop removal, the most environmentally damaging method of strip mining. While Roosevelt is admired as a naturalist, the other refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduced the EPA’s budget, reduced that agency’s Clean Water Fund, and advocates drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Roosevelt said, “The man of great wealth owes a particular obligation to the State because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government.” The other is bent on giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

There are perhaps some similarities. For example, both attended Harvard, and both were ranchers. Woodrow Wilson once called Roosevelt “the most dangerous man of the age.” And when Roosevelt thundered at the Progressive convention, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord,” the “nearly hysterical delegates burst into perfervid singing of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’”

James Baldwin is a long-time local resident.

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