Teddy Roosevelt, the Racist, Warmongering Wall Street Shill

Liberals love to point to Roosevelt, the “progressive,” as a sign of the “good” a president can do.

Like most Americans who identify with partisan politics, however, they know absolutely nothing about the man.

I write a lot about how ignorant of history the average American is–and how this ignorance is in many ways cultural and political policy, in that it reifies existing power structures.

This meme has floated around the Internet. It is the epitome of such ignorant reification. It is positively risible.

Roosevelt, the "Liberal"

Actor and comedian John Fugelsang posted the picture on Facebook, admiringly declaring “We used to have progressive Republicans who weren’t Wall St. shills.”

Meanwhile, in the real world, it turns out, as Howard Zinn explains in his magnum opus, Roosevelt is in fact the prime example of a Wall Street shill.

Here are a few more “progressive” quotes for you (emphasis mine).

Richard Hofstadter, in his biting chapter on the man the public saw as the great lover of nature and physical fitness, the war hero, the Boy Scout in the White House, says: “The advisers to whom Roosevelt listened were almost exclusively representatives of industrial and finance capital-men like Hanna, Robert Bacon, and George W. Perkins of the House of Morgan, Elihu Root, Senator Nelson W. Aldrich … and James Stillman of the Rockefeller interests.” Responding to his worried brother-in-law writing from Wall Street, Roosevelt replied: “I intend to be most conservative, but in the interests of the corporations themselves and above all in the interests of the country.

Roosevelt supported the regulatory Hepburn Act because he feared something worse. He wrote to Henry Cabot Lodge that the railroad lobbyists who opposed the bill were wrong: “I think they are very shortsighted not to understand that to beat it means to increase the movement for government ownership of the railroads.” His action against the trusts was to induce them to accept government regulation, in order to prevent destruction. He prosecuted the Morgan railroad monopoly in the Northern Securities Case, considering it an antitrust victory, but it hardly changed anything, and, although the Sherman Act provided for criminal penalties, there was no prosecution of the men who had planned the monopoly-Morgan, Harriman, Hill.

As Weinstein says: “It represented a growing maturity and sophistication on the part of many large corporation leaders who had come to understand, as Theodore Roosevelt often told them, that social reform was truly conservative.

The Progressive movement, whether led by honest reformers like Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin or disguised conservatives like Roosevelt (who was the Progressive party candidate for President in 1912), seemed to understand it was fending off socialism. The Milwaukee Journal, a Progressive organ, said the conservatives “fight socialism blindly . .. while the Progressives fight it intelligently and seek to remedy the abuses and conditions upon which it thrives.

Frank Munsey, a director of U.S. Steel, writing to Roosevelt, seeing him as the best candidate for 1912, confided in him that the United States must move toward a more “parental guardianship of the people” who needed “the sustaining and guiding hand of the State.” It was “the work of the state to think for the people and plan for the people,” the steel executive said.”

Yet, wait, there’s more! Warmongering shill Roosevelt was also extra-imperialist and extra-racist! Indispensable qualities of any good U.S. president, it goes without saying.

Zinn continues:

Theodore Roosevelt wrote to a friend in the year 1897: “In strict confidence . . . I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.

When the United States did not annex Hawaii in 1893 after some Americans (the combined missionary and pineapple interests of the Dole family) set up their own government, Roosevelt called this hesitancy “a crime against white civilization.” And he told the Naval War College: “All the great masterful races have been fighting races. . . . No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumph of war.

Roosevelt was contemptuous of races and nations he considered inferior. When a mob in New Orleans lynched a number of Italian immigrants, Roosevelt thought the United States should offer the Italian government some remuneration, but privately he wrote his sister that he thought the lynching was “rather a good thing” and told her he had said as much at a dinner with “various dago diplomats . . . all wrought up by the lynching.”

“That was then,” contemporary liberals insist. “Everyone was racist then.” This typical justification is absurd at best, an example of racist apologetics at worst. “Everyone” was not racist then. Whites were racist then. And some whites made great sacrifices in the fight against racism.

The unfortunate truth is we’ve never had a president, Republican or Democrat, in this country who wasn’t a Wall Street shill. From day one forward, this country has been bought and sold. Capitalism ensures that.