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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Colonel Roosevelt


I recently finished 'Colonel Roosevelt,' the third volume of Edmund Morris’ biography of Theodore Roosevelt. It’s been 30 years since he published ‘The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,’ and volume two, ‘Theodore Rex,’ came out in 2001. Morris appeared on The Daily Show, and seemed pleased when Stewart noted that TR died at the relatively young age of 61. When Stewart asked him about this he confessed that he was, “otherwise I would have to write another volume.”

This book takes up when Roosevelt leaves the White House and goes off on safari to collect specimens for the Smithsonian. He follows this with a tour of Europe, where he meets with all the crowned heads. At this time he was probably the most famous person on earth. He returns to America and becomes disaffected with his successor William Howard Taft, eventually breaking his pledge not to seek a second full term as President. When the convention nominated Taft, TR split and formed the Bull Moose Party, which split the vote, putting Woodrow Wilson in the White House.

I find it odd that when Glenn Beck does his eliminationist shtick on the evil Progressive Movement, he focuses on Woodrow Wilson. Maybe he lays off Roosevelt because he was a Republican, but TR advocated for Civil Service reform, conservation, food and drug regulation, women’s suffrage, social insurance to provide for the elderly, the unemployed and the disabled, farm relief, workman’s compensation, anti-trust regulation, limits and disclosure for campaign contributions, direct election of senators, and an inheritance tax. If they still made Republicans like that, I’d vote for ‘em.

This volume tells of the TR that went round the bend. Whether it was splitting the party, attacking his successors, or leading a near-disastrous expedition on the ‘River of Doubt,’ he became full of himself. This leader of the Rough Riders, who suffered 33% casualties in Cuba, was an avid nationalist who considered war to be beneficial to the country, an occasional bloodletting that improved the race. He beat the war drums for US entry into The Great War, making him a persona non grata to Wilson, who denied TR the Calvary commission he desired. Instead Roosevelt’s three sons went to war. All were shot-up, the youngest, Kermit, was killed and this, finally took the starch out of TR, he died within a year.

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