A Republican Roosevelt: Just as bad

By Andy Seré
web posted April 17, 2000

Some U.S. presidents have permanently leached themselves on to the American landscape, e.g., Washington, Lincoln, FDR. They set significant precedents, redefine America's essence, and even influence its popular culture. But one of these trend-setters irks me more than any other.

Theodore Roosevelt (namesake of the teddy bear, John McCain's would-be presidential model, fourth-ranking Chief on recently released C-SPAN presidential rankings, and third stone-clad face engraved in Mt. Rushmore) flagrantly disavowed our free market and Constitution while promoting socialism and collectivism. I seek to explain my disdain by citing examples of Roosevelt's abuse of Constitutionally-enumerated executive powers, his over-regulation of business and industry, and his contempt for capitalism.

Evidenced by both his words and legislation, Roosevelt definitely believed in socialism, or at least its precursor. The government, he said, must be "the senior partner in every business." Partner? Roosevelt's federal government was its archenemy!

Shortly after his premature presidential swear-in, Roosevelt poked his "big stick" in the eye of industry. In 1902 coal miners across the nation went on strike. After a five-month standoff, Roosevelt ventured into waters no government official should ever swim: the free market. He summoned the strikers and the mine owners to the White House for negotiations, where he covertly threatened the owners with mine-occupying federal troops. Faced with overtly unconstitutional yet ultimately powerful coercion, these law-abiding men acquiesced to the mighty hand of King Roosevelt, just as gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson kowtowed to Janet Reno, her "Justice" Department, and many state attorney generals 100 years later. Roosevelt did not stop there; his next target: Northern Securities Company.

A J.P. Morgan-owned holding company, Northern Securities was falsely accused of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act by allegedly monopolizing the Pacific Northwest railroad industry. Let's face it: J.P. Morgan never won an ethics trophy; his intention in forming Northern Securities was not to promote good will. But let us also face the fact that Northwesterners accessed more than one rail company. Morgan's operation, unseemly as it may have been, did not hold citizens captive of one leviathan monopolizer. Even so, Roosevelt placed his hatred of "the tyranny of mere wealth" above the facts by suing Northern Securities. The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in condemnation and dissolution of the company. Today Microsoft awaits a similar fate.

In the paragon of Roosevelt, government is now reaching its heavy hand into the pool of innovation. Modern liberals cannot stomach competition, hard work, and entrepreneurial success. They continually seek to "even the playing field." Such rhetoric signals a socialist-leaning agenda. With today's myriad of federal business regulation, Roosevelt would feel right at home.

After the high court's 1904 ruling, Roosevelt sank his teeth into the beef, oil, and tobacco industries. However, the railroad industry peeved him more than most. Roosevelt, since the beginning of his tenure, desired the strengthening of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) so it could slap multiple restrictions on railroads. Well, another set of regulations sought, another set of regulations won. In 1906, with Roosevelt's vociferous support, the Hepburn Act became law. The bill handed the ICC power to control pipelines, express and sleeping car companies, bridges, ferries, and terminals. Also, rebates were forbidden, free rides were outlawed, and rates would ultimately be under the jurisdiction of the Commission. To Roosevelt the Hepburn Act was a triumph because it was another step towards "effective federal control of business." To me the Hepburn Act was an abomination because of that; therein lies the difference between the Roosevelt ideology and the conservative philosophy.

More Roosevelt dogma would shine through in 1906. The Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, which led to the unfortunate commencement of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), both ordered tight restrictions on many food products. These laws ostensibly protect the consumer - but at what price? Thick barriers hampering the sacred relationship between buyer and seller? Government strangulation of the marketplace? In the long run, such hindrances can only harm the consumer! Look at the results of the creation of the FDA. These bureaucrats delay the approval of life-saving drugs and now wish to regulate tobacco, but they quickly endorse kill pill RU-486. Life is not high on the FDA's priority list.

Among Roosevelt's satanic spawns: the aforementioned FDA, the Bureau of Corporations, which in 1903 gave government the power to oversee profitable businesses so material could be turned against them in trust-busting cases, and the Department of Commerce and Labor, another tiresome, Big Government vehicle for subverting skillful enterprises on the basis of "fairness."

Every American businessman should contemptuously forswear Theodore Roosevelt just as Elián-supporting Cuban exiles repudiate Fidel Castro. Although one effectively imprisons the market and one incarcerates his own people, both share the similar thought processes of a socialist.

Conservative Republicans enjoy tagging Roosevelt's distant cousin FDR, a Democrat, with the responsibility for the present "welfare state." Similarly, they should relinquish boasts of Roosevelt's membership in their party, and start holding him responsible for the present regulatory state. They must admit that in the Roosevelt family, partisanship was of no avail: a Republican Roosevelt was just as bad.

Andy Seré is a sophomore at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston, Texas. He can be reached at andysere@mail.com.

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