Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twenty-Six, The President As Superhero

"To me, the key to understanding the character is that Bruce Wayne is Teddy Roosevelt." - Christopher Nolan

In my review of Andrew Jackson, I despaired of the fact that while Jackson was an asshole, he was also a Badass which meant by American standards he was and will always be admired.  The problem is that a Badass isn't always what we consider Good or Lawful (character alignment!), a Badass can be Chaotic or Evil as well.

If Andrew Jackson was Badass Evil, we can at least take comfort that another President served as Badass Good: Theodore Roosevelt.

Did we mention he had asthma growing up? He did, and after he beat asthma to death, he ate asthma's raw flesh and ran 100 straight miles off the energy it gave him. - article on badass Presidents (guess who topped the list).

Roosevelt comes to this review with one of the more impressive resumes a President could have (maybe Garfield comes closest): state representative, cowboy, Wild West sheriff, entrepreneur, New York City Police Commissioner (not only is he the template for Batman, he's also the template for Commissioner Gordon), adventurer/explorer, author, historian, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, volunteer cavalryman (the Rough Riders), New York Governor, and then Vice President under McKinley.  This last bit needs explaining: nearly everything Roosevelt did was as a progressive-minded reformer, a True Believer in the exceptional potential of the United States.  An upper-class socialite who took noblesse oblige seriously.  He went after corruption at all levels in nearly every form: he went after injustice.  And he did it with nerves of steel, total determination, and a willingness to get the job done with his own hands if need be.  And it pissed the hell out of his fellow corrupt politicians...

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. - Theodore Roosevelt's "Man In The Arena" paragraph from his Citizenship in a Republic Speech, 1910.  This is Roosevelt basically daring every living soul to be badass.

Roosevelt became Vice President for McKinley's second term because enough political bosses in his own party - Republicans - were sick of his meddling while serving as New York's governor.  The reasoning was that the Veep's office was where political careers went to die: Roosevelt would have no true power there (save as tie-breaking vote in the Senate), and almost nobody who served as Vice President went on to do anything else as a career.  Only one machine boss was against it - Mark Hanna out of Ohio - who knew that while the Vice President was powerless, all it would take is something happening to McKinley to make "that goddamn cowboy" the most powerful man in the political arena.  It had, after all, happened before.  And in three out of the four times, it led to disaster for both the party and the nation.

While it was sad for McKinley when he was assassinated, Roosevelt becoming President proved a good thing for the nation.

"Why spoil the beauty of the thing with legality?" - attributed to Attorney General Philander Knox, reportedly after Roosevelt spent another lecture defending his actions over Panama's independence from Colombia, which helped secure the Panama Canal deal.

Every adjective to describe an Active-Positive President could apply to Theodore Roosevelt: confident, self-controlled, Adaptive, optimistic, creative, and enjoyed the use of power not for himself but for the benefit of others.  In another way to describe him: Roosevelt was the MOST ACTIVE President we've ever had.

He pushed a Progressive platform, seeking reforms across the board from the political to the business world to education to everything.  Trust-Buster: he went after J.P. Morgan's railroad interests, he went after the sugar monopoly, he went after Big Steel, he started after Standard Oil before he left office.  The Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.  He put regulations in place to ensure public safety and health.  He backed the efforts to establish a constitutional amendment to establish a progressive-scaled income tax.  He pushed for natural conservation as the industrialization spreading westward that threatened to over-consume everything (preserving wildlife and the natural beauty of the nation were beneficial side-effects).

In foreign policy, he put the United States at the forefront of international politics.  He settled an international crisis with Venezuela vs. European powers.  He negotiated a peace treaty between Russia and Japan, becoming the first President to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  He threatened an invasion of Morocco over the Perdicaris Incident but made shrewd diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis.  If there was any bellicosity during his administration, it was his getting involved in a Panama uprising against Colombia in order to get a Pacific-Atlantic canal finalized that would open up global shipping trade (and military naval routes, although navy ships soon got to be too big for the Panama Canal later on).

The entire nation seemed to hum with energy and vigor while he sat in office.  The SOB - and I mean that in a good, awe-inspiring way - was powered by Pure Awesome (and a ton of coffee: he was a heavy coffee drinker for the day, which helped popularize the habit across America).

Politically, he gave a face and personality to the reformers in the Republican ranks, quickly identified (and still to this day) as Progressives.  Previous "accidental" Presidents - Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson, Arthur - never had a chance to build up a power base or take control of a party that didn't want them: Roosevelt - through sheer force of personality, intelligence, and willpower - became the first succeeding President to win a Presidential term in his own right.

Roosevelt left office at the height of his power and tenure: of the Presidents to serve more than one term, his second round in office is remarkably free of scandal - all the scandals were in the business circles - and he could have easily run again for a third.  But he took the idea of two-terms seriously, even if one was just a half-term, and decided to move on, allowing a hand-picked friend to succeed him into the White House. When his friend (more on him later) proved more, well, timid in pursuing a Progressive agenda, Roosevelt went and formed his own political party - Progressive/Bull Moose - to win back the White House and resume his reformer's agenda.  Well, it didn't work out, but he did dare greatly...

After Roosevelt left the White House, he went on explorations across the globe.  He made one trip up the Amazon rainforest in search of a waterway known as the River of Doubt.  When he was done, it was re-named THE RIVER OF UNQUESTIONABLE CERTAINTY - quote generally attributed to everyone who read up on everything Roosevelt did and came away stunned that such a person existed in real life.  The river actually got renamed Roosevelt River.

Roosevelt had personal energy the likes of which we've rarely seen in other historical figures, and most likely never will again.  Of the great Presidents at the top of the list, Roosevelt was the most Badass (and we're talking a list that includes Washington and Lincoln, no slouches in the Badass department).

The Last Thing Death Sees Before a Brutal Ass-Kicking:

It's the stunned look on Death's face that sells it.

Next Week: All In All He'd Much Preferred The Judgeship.

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