I am a Ted-head. That is what I learned that the Theodore Roosevelt Association members call themselves. The Ted-heads had their annual meeting recently at the Harvard Club in NYC – the first such meeting that I have ever attended. It is hosted by Tweed Roosevelt, the former President’s great-Grandson.
The weekend began with an event at the TR birthplace in NYC, which is managed by the U.S. Park Service. The event featured the cartoons of the TR era which I frankly think are better described as caricatures. An artist can depict TR in 3 pen strokes. The next morning, a symposium began with a panel of: Congressman French Hill R-AR, former Congressman Steve Israel D-NY and TRs great-great grandson, Winthrop Roosevelt. I have a low opinion of Congress but these two representatives were amazingly well read of history. They said that Congressmen today do not have time to read and is one reason why Congress has less perspective, is less thoughtful and less accomplished. Hill said that the typical member of Congress doesn’t have historical perspective on what they do.
They reviewed how recent presidents interacted with Congress. They favored the George W approach saying that he led Congress with a bi-partisan coalition. They described Obama as aloof with no interest in Congress attempting to lead from above it all. They were critical of that approach. They described Trump’s approach to Congress as leading from below, setting an agenda and then daring Congress to oppose him. They didn’t like that approach either.
They described TRs approach with Congress as leading from above, below and behind telling Congress to get out of the way. They said that TR opposed tariffs and fought Congress and wanted tariff revisions blocked by Congress at that time.
While many Americans are not impressed by Congress, these two members of Congress were not impressed by the average American’s knowledge of civics. They say that half of Americans fail a citizenship exam that is passed by 90% of foreigners.
The next symposium session was on TR’s political perspective with Carl Rove and Geoffrey Cowan. Carl was George W’s political strategist and Cowan represented the other side of the political spectrum. I had met Carl Rove casually once before and was able to engage again. He has done research on TR that led him to an interest in McKinley whom he became a fan of. Rove said that TR had served as an attack dog sort of a surrogate for others when Presidents did not want to engage with a negative tone.
TR was an ordinary VP but a very extraordinary president. TR was not a socialist and strongly opposed Woodrow Wilson, however he believed that government served a purpose to protect the American people. TR started unions, broke monopolies, enacted child labor laws, created the FDA and other forms of consumer protections such as USDA meat inspection. I believe that TR would have favored ethanol and the RFS. TR believed that the public owned the country and sought to legally preserve it for them with his vast land conservation using national park reserves, forests and monuments.
They described TR as a Shadow President after he left office. He was much more influential after he left office than Woodrow Wilson would have liked. On issues of the day, the press would ask the opinion of Wilson and TR and not necessarily in that order.
When asked the role of an ex-president George W answered “none”. He left Obama alone. Obama has been drawn back in by Trump’s very direct and personal attack on his legacy.
I like Carl Rove’s intellect a lot. I think that he has the current political contest nailed. He used cultural issues such as gay marriage to bring out Bush voters but warned that there was a tipping point when cultural issues inflame voter sentiment on both sides and he believed that the demographic breakdown favored Democrats in a head to head contest when all showed up at the polls. Looking back at 2016, Hillary suppressed the democratic vote and Trump lost the popular vote winning by a squeaker in the electoral college. Hillary was a loser and Trump was lucky.
The mid-term election should prove Rove’s premise right or wrong. The next panel included David Greenberg and Mark Gearan who are political communications experts who discussed TR’s communications strategy. TR created the Bully Pulpit, the first White House press office, and held the first White House press conferences although smaller than they are now, talking to just a few journalists in a more private setting. He also allowed the first traveling press corps to accompany him on trips. Prior to TR, Congress would send things (issues) up to the president and TR reversed that flow sending the items that concerned him that he wanted taken up down to Congress.
TR expanded presidential power seeing himself as the only one elected by “all of the people”. He, like Trump, would put his agenda in small slogans like “square-deal” “speak softly but carry a big stick,” believing the public needed a circus poster. It was the overwhelming consensus of Ted-heads at this meeting that TR was spinning in his grave over Trump as president. TR had something that Trump does not and doesn’t appear to care abou,t which was trans party appeal and perspective. TR was the President of the United States of America and Trump is the president of his base.
Connan O’Brien gave the keynote address at the evening dinner. He too is a Ted-head. He focused his message on TR’s humor and how the media portrayed him. He is great entertainment. I got my picture taken with Connan who knew where Iowa was. A Ted-head at my table from Medora ND asked me that why, when Trump trade, RFS and immigration policies were damaging to Agriculture, that farmers still support him?
I answered that I have been told by farmers that “You can’t vote agriculture.” I believe that they are wrong because the ideological culture war is crap and Agriculture is actually something real.
By the way, the USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71 is back in port in San Diego getting refitted after their last combat tour which included a station in the Persian Gulf launching sorties into Syria. Captain Carlos Sardiello invited the Association on the next family cruise set for next August. If anyone wants to go let me know if a day on an aircraft carrier is on your bucket list.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page