Teddy Roosevelt for President in 2012?

The 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be one of the most significant elections in American history. The outcome of major political issues such as Obamacare, carbon regulations, and our looming fiscal calamity hang in the balance.

In a larger sense, however, this year’s election sits in the shadow of a presidential election that occurred a century ago: The 1912 presidential election featured many of the same elements—and arguments—we are likely to see in the months leading to November.

In fact, President Obama has already framed the upcoming contest in the same terms as those of the 1912 election. When he traveled to Osawatomie, Kansas to give a major economic address, he intended to stake his claim as the heir to Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism,” the platform which would help define the 1912 election as a major turning point that put America on the path towards progressive-liberalism. It was during the 1912 election that Roosevelt led the creation of the Progressive Party, after he was rejected by his (former) Republican Party. That election, more than any other, offers important insights into the contemporary party struggle and the importance of the upcoming election.

Roosevelt gave his “New Nationalism” speech at Osawatomie in 1910 as the first signal that he was running for president in 1910, and that he would be willing to confront his own party for the sake of leading a progressive revolution. When the leaders of the Republican Party, such as Henry Cabot Lodge and Elihu Root, supported incumbent William Howard Taft over Roosevelt, the creation of the Progressive (or “Bull Moose”) Party was inevitable.

During the election, Roosevelt primarily argued for radical constitutional reforms, designed to permanently transform our republic into a direct democracy. He not only advocated direct primaries and the direct election of senators, but also supported the recall of the president and popular elections to overturn judicial decisions. (Obama’s recent comment that the Court will not take “an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically-elected congress” is just another example of Obama’s significant intellectual debt to Roosevelt.)

As Sidney Milkis has eloquently explained in his recent book “Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy,” Roosevelt’s proposals—most of which were enacted shortly after the election—inaugurated “a new form of politics” in America. This new form of politics replaced party-centered elections (in which candidates stood for principles espoused by party leaders) with candidate-centered elections (in which the cult of personality prevented the discussion of real issues).

Roosevelt himself exemplified the power, and the danger, of this new approach to political campaigns. The 1912 Progressive Party convention was more of a spiritual gathering than a political meeting. Roosevelt delivered his “Confession of Faith” to the convention on the second day of its meeting, and ended by claiming that the party needed to “stand at Armageddon” and “battle for the Lord.” The audience responded by singing spiritual hymns, including one hymn in which they replaced the name of Jesus with Roosevelt! The religiosity of Roosevelt’s 1912 campaign helps explain the peculiar kind of fervor so many of Obama’s supporters expressed in 2008 (and likely will express in 2012).

In spite of its quasi-spiritual devotion to Roosevelt, the Progressive Party was hardly bereft of actual policy recommendations. The party’s platform in 1912 is nearly a carbon copy of the progressive-liberal playbook over the past 100 years.

In addition to Roosevelt’s plan for direct democracy, the platform called for “a more easy and expeditious method of amending the federal Constitution,” federal occupational safety standards, the minimum wage, “strong national regulation of inter-state corporations,” “the policy of conservation” (including public control of all national resources), the ratification of the 16th Amendment giving the federal government the power to levy an income tax, and “a single national health service.” In short, most of what progressive-liberalism has sought to achieve over the past 100 years was laid out by Roosevelt and his allies in the Progressive Party in 1912.

As Obama deliberately positions himself as the intellectual heir to Theodore Roosevelt, Americans would be wise to examine the transformative election whose centennial anniversary occurs this year. Despite all of the promises of “change” we heard four years ago, the truth is that very little about contemporary progressivism is novel. Barack Obama’s appeal today was foreshadowed a century ago by Roosevelt. In a profound sense, we are living in the world passed down to us by those 1912 progressives.

Copyright 2012 The Center for Vision and Values


Dr. Joseph Postell is assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the co-editor of “Rediscovering Political Economy,” and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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  • Flyfisher

    I am glad to see some real clarity of Teddy’s debilitating impact on America, something I have realized for some time.  As a man, I like the guy for his ability to personally overcome some medical issues and to live on the frontier even though he was a NYC rich guy.  But, like the Kennedy’s, he had his own money and wanted to take yours and mine to achieve a Utopian vision now leading to the Wildlands plans of UN Agenda 21.  Can we start the long march back toward personal freedom in this election?  Mitt, what do you think?  Cardinal Dolan, you could be another NYC guy rich in faith to help Mitt.

  • J17ghs

    One of Teddy Roosevelt’s successors was FDR’s first-term vice president Henry Wallace who ran as a Progressive Party candidate for president against Truman and Dewey in 1948. The smoke had barely cleared from WWII battlefields and Wallace was already saying that America would be come the most hated country in the world. This is the Marxist plan underway since 1922, first aimed at destroying our monetary system. Wallace also ignored the extreme brutality under Stalin and Mao who had more death camps than Hitler ever did. Also, your biased article, which quotes how courts should never overturn a democratically elected law reeks of hypocrisy. Democrats have done this so many times I can’t count them and will do so again as this is how Marxist laws and politicians get their way; most sane people would not agree with a backward “regressive” system that is basically a monarchy with serfs ruled by appointed lords and ladies. Finally, Obama-eugenics wasn’t passed by a strong majority; it was passed by just more than 50 of 100 votes and relied on bribes, threats and back-room deals.

  • Robert Boehm

    Unless something changes dramatically before the election, regardless of who wins, the powers in the shadows (especially those who control money) will still be in control of a purposely dumbed down nation. BHO is an admitted socialist (protege of Saul Alinsky), and WMR boasts of being in the same religion, founded by Freemasons, for 32 years.  The only thing that will change the downward fall of the entire world into the abyss, will be the promised (by Our Lady of Fatima) consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, by the Pope and Roman Catholic Bishops.