Theodore Roosevelt is rated among the top five American presidents in history.
In light of that acclaim, you might think that Long Island and national Republicans would be eager and proud to associate with him.
But when is the last time you heard any Republican politician say: “I am a Theodore Roosevelt Republican?”
Perhaps they know enough about Roosevelt’s key domestic values and actions to recognize that, if he were alive in 2016, he would be a Democrat!
In New Hampshire last week, Hillary Clinton defended herself as a “Progressive” in her ongoing competition with Bernie Sanders.
Not surprisingly, Sanders cited TR as a model in his calls for greater government regulation for the public good.
Perhaps an even more radical question in 2016 is: Would TR be a supporter of Bernie Sanders?
Let’s look at some of the key aspects of TR’s domestic life and work:
1. He was a “reformer” from an early age (not unlike Bernie). He was elected to the New York Assembly at age 23 and challenged the “establishment” Republicans (in his own party) from the start.
2. Unlike many politicians then (and now), TR had a keen sense of using explicit, reliable data to describe societal trends and thus call for citizens’ attention to support changes. (Isn’t Bernie doing the same thing?)
3. TR is justly acclaimed for proclaiming that there should be a “Square Deal” for all Americans and that the privileged and wealthy should be accountable to law and morality.
Unlike Bernie, TR was a man of wealth.
As James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn show in their brilliant volume, “The Three Roosevelts,” he was considered a “traitor against his class.”
4. Like Bernie, TR did not shrink from defining the enemies of a good society; he used the phrase “malefactors of great wealth” to characterize “greedy” men who were “utterly lacking in either national vision or social responsibility.”
Unlike Ronald Reagan, and many Conservatives today, TR rejected the view that “government is the problem.”
He showed the critical importance of the regulatory and initiating power of the national government, not only as our acclaimed “Trust Buster” but for the most extensive range of regulations for corporate and wealth accountability in American history to that time. (Recall Reagan’s central theme was “deregulation.”)
No candidate looks to an effective national power in 2016 more than Bernie.
5. Not only did TR expand rules for railroads, he also pushed for adoption of the federal Meat Inspection and Pure Food and Drug Acts.
He initiated 44 suits against monopolies and used presidential power to secure adoption of the Newlands Act, setting the stage for major national environmental initiatives.
6. He was the first president to intervene on the side of labor in a strike and battled conservatives in Congress to establish a new Cabinet Department of Labor and Commerce, providing more reliable data about business and workers.
7. When TR sought changes resisted by Congress (and members of his own Republican Party), he would use the “Bully Pulpit” to make appeals directly to the people.
Unlike Bernie, he did not call for “Revolution,” but historians describe his impact on America as “transformational.”
8. Even before TR bolted from the GOP to run as a Progressive in 1912, he laid out what became known as his “New Nationalism” agenda.
Bernie, like TR, resists limited political definitions, as he has run as a Democratic Socialist and a Progressive, even as he caucuses with the Democrats.
9. As early as 1907, in his annual message to Congress, TR emphasized that it was the duty of the government to control great wealth and speculation in the interests of the commonweal.
He was ahead of most politicians of his time (and still ahead of Republican presidential candidates today) when he called, repeatedly, for: a. inheritance taxes, b. a national income tax, c. postal savings banks (backed by federal government), d. compulsory investigation of large labor disputes, e. expansion of the eight-hour day, and f) extension of Workers’ Compensation.
TR wanted a society that would work for everyone, not just the privileged rich.
“I firmly believe,” he said, “that we have to put forward the cause of justice and humanity by many years.”
He added: “This will not be a good country for any of us unless we can make it a better country for all of us.”
Roosevelt’s views on Executive Action provide early support for Obama and for Bernie or any Democrat elected in 2016 (who will need to deal with the so-called “Republican Freedom Caucus” in the House).
That “Originalist” group contends that any legislation must be explicitly endorsed by the Constitution.
Long Islander Peter King has referred to those extremists in his own party as “crazies.”
President Theodore Roosevelt declared: “I declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the Nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it.”
Always recognizing that politics must be more than a spectator sport, TR, like Bernie, called for expanded citizen engagement:, “Words without action are intellectual debauchery; one must enter the arena and strive to do the deeds.”
D’Innocenzo’s website is: michaeldinnocenzo.com