Where's the charity?
On the Rough Rider President, bad faith disagreements, and the need for "justice and broad generosity and charity"
Theodore Roosevelt isn't much of a dashboard saint for the libertarian movement. He was a "decisive" proponent of what has become the modern regulation of consumer foods, a powerful advocate for a muscular display of military capability, and an unapologetic nationalizer of Western lands. Roosevelt was a President who liked what he could do with government power.
■ Yet even in his Progressive Era frenzy to put government to work, Roosevelt remained true to a cultural sensitivity to liberty. It is a sense that, even though incompletely and inconsistently applied from the country's beginnings, offers a standard to which Americans ought to aspire.
■ In a 1913 speech to a Lincoln Day banquet in New York City, the former President declared, "We must act with justice and broad generosity and charity toward one another and toward all men if we are to make this Republic what it must and shall be made, the nation in all the earth where each man can in best and freest fashion live his own life unwronged by others and proudly careful to wrong no other man."
■ What Roosevelt sacrificed in pith, he made up in principle. While he was of a time when America hadn't yet lived up to recognizing the equality of women or racial minorities, if we can read his use of "men" as "people", then his words have a lot to say to the present.
■ The "best and freest fashion", "unwronged by others" part speaks to the fundamental American preference for liberty, and it is worth amplifying all on its own. But it is the insistence that Americans "act with justice and broad generosity and charity toward one another" that could use an especially large re-airing in the United States today.
■ We have podcasts with names like "Know Your Enemy", heads of political think tanks calling their opponents "deranged", and candidates running for the United States Senate with advertising that is deemed too awful for television. There are too many examples to count, and too many bad-faith participants who think they have something to gain from making it all even worse. We are not enemies; we are cohabitants of a country that depends upon mutual persuasion.
■ There is nothing about basic charity and generosity towards others that diminishes the person who exercises those virtues. We may not have a social class of nobility in the United States, but that only means we have to democratize noble behavior among all of us. And when people try to climb social or political ladders by treating others in spiteful and cruel ways, it is on the shoulders of the rest of us to deny them any reward for the effort.