Written on Sunday, March 11, 2012 by Nathaniel Davidson
In Part 1, I outlined the great achievements in many areas of our 26th President, the Republican Theodore Roosevelt, before he became President. This second part outlines some of his great achievements as President, but also a severe blot on his reputation, and even how a genuine concern for people’s health led to government overreach that did more harm than good.
In 1904, President Roosevelt ordered the US to complete the Panama Canal, which had stalled under the French for 25 years. America paid millions for the French equipment, but made huge improvements in both machines and conditions. So the canal was completed by 1914, and is vitally important for the whole world. It still had a terrible human cost of 5,600 lives during the American phase, but still far fewer than the 20,000 in the previous quarter century. Unfortunately, one of Jimmy Carter’s many foreign policy blunders was giving this canal, largely built by American money, blood and ingenuity, to the leftist regime of the area.
TR also negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, after the Japanese fleet surprised the West by almost annihilating the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima. For this, he was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize—for an actual achievement, unlike our current President.
TR, as befitting a genuine navy historian and former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, increased and modernized the Navy. As the ships were painted white, to symbolize peace, it was nicknamed “The Great White Fleet.” Then TR ordered this fleet of two squadrons to circumnavigate the globe (1907–1909), a great organizational as well as nautical achievement. TR intended this as a display of the new American power, especially after the rise of the Japanese navy, and a goodwill gesture to allies. The visit to our future staunch ally Australia inspired this country to build their own navy, while thousands of Japanese schoolchildren waved American flags when sailors came ashore in Yokohama. American sailors helped with rescue operations after a devastating Sicily earthquake.
However, President Roosevelt’s demonstrably great achievements also led him into the pride that resulted in the fall to “Progressivism”. This movement believed in a powerful Presidency and big government interventionism, trusting their own “superior” wisdom over the “market”, i.e. millions of people exercising free economic choices.
So indeed, Roosevelt was not that different from the Democrats of his era, such as Woodrow Wilson. Therefore it’s important to look at TR’s actions, since his worst are some of those most praised by the leftist educracy and media, and even inspire Obama.
The main exception was that TR opposed their racism—remember, he had black soldiers in his “Rough Riders”, and he defended blacks in federal positions. Anti-black racism in this country has historically been a Democrat monopoly (see The Left’s War on Blacks).
Unfortunately, TR, for all his achievements, was a man of his time. So along with most of the Progressive elites of his day, he supported the horrendous eugenics movement. Roosevelt wrote to the infamous eugenics leader Charles Davenport in 1913:
“Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind…. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum…. Some day we will realize that the prime duty, the inescapable duty of the good citizens of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type. The great problem of civilization is to secure a relative increase of the valuable as compared with the less valuable or noxious elements in the population… The problem cannot be met unless we give full consideration to the immense influence of heredity…”
He was in the company of Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the black-hating, KKK-loving founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. This movement resulted in 60,000 Americans sterilized against their will.
The only real opponents of eugenics were the Bible-believing churches, while the Churchian left loved it, as thoroughly documented by Christine Rosen’s book, Preaching Genetics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement. One example was Catholics and evangelical Protestants joined forces to defeat a proposed sterilization bill in New Orleans in 1928.
Liberals today pat themselves on the back for the government regulations that allegedly save lives. Without them, liberals claim, meat would be disease-ridden and unhealthy, with greedy meatpackers opposing health regulations. Indeed, this was a claim by an infamous socialist muck-raker called Upton Sinclair in his book The Jungle, ostensibly about the new big Chicago meat packing plants. Now TR was sensible enough to say that he had “utter contempt” for Sinclair, and that, “Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods.” But he sent two inexperienced bureaucrats to investigate, and while they rejected Sinclair’s more sensationalist claims, they found faults in the meat industry. In 1906, this led TR to push Congress to pass both the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, both sacred cows (pun intended) of liberals today.
But in reality, there was never any idyllic state of wonderful hygiene before the rise of industry. Rather, the free market made superb hygiene possible by inventing refrigeration (compare also how the market—not unions—improved workers’ conditions, in the Patriot column Unions: Myth versus Facts). Furthermore, there were already inspections, both official as well as the unofficial ones in the form of 2 million annual visitors. The meat companies would not dare risk their public reputations by exposing unsanitary conditions. Nor would they want to lose business by getting a reputation for selling bad meat—reputation is probably the most effective “regulator” of all!
Last, far from being “government regulating evil businesses”—as usual, the big businesses welcomed the regulation. Not only did taxpayers pick up the $3 million price for implementation, but the new regulations kept out smaller competitors. This is hardly the only example of “regulatory capture”, where the very businesses that are supposed to be regulated end up exploiting these very regulations, at the expense of competitors and consumers.
And once the government had its foot in the door, it opened it far more. These were the beginnings of the disastrous Food and Drug Administration. This monstrously bloated bureaucracy is responsible for making life-saving drugs exorbitantly costly, and keeping them out of the market for years, costing thousands of lives.
Although President Theodore Roosevelt was a most able and honourable man, excessive pride in his own abilities led to decisions we are still paying for today. And when the elite Progressives badly needed opposition, in eugenics, he instead supported them, although to his credit he opposed their racism. His activism for meat hygiene, although with the best of motives, actually hindered the progress that the free market was making, and left us with a huge bureaucracy TR himself probably wouldn’t have liked.