Ken Burns and the Myth of Theodore Roosevelt
Michael Wolraich writes: The Roosevelts, a new PBS documentary by director Ken Burns, presents President Theodore Roosevelt as a political superhero. In photo after photo, Burns’s famous pan-and-zoom effect magnifies Roosevelt’s flashing teeth and upraised fist.
The reverential narrator hails his fighting spirit and credits him with transforming the role of American government through sheer willpower. “I attack,” an actor blusters, imitating Roosevelt’s patrician cadence, “I attack iniquities.”
“For the most part, Roosevelt pursued ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ with Morgan and other industrialists in order to avoid litigation. The rapport was so warm that many of them contributed to Roosevelt’s 1904 election campaign.”
Though exciting to watch, Burns’s cinematic homage muddles the history. Roosevelt was a great president and brilliant politician, but he was not the progressive visionary and fearless warrior that Burns lionizes.
“Burns’s narrator describes how he proudly defied J. Pierpont Morgan but neglected to mention that he sued far fewer trusts than his conservative successor, William Taft.”
He governed as a pragmatic centrist and a mediator who preferred backroom deal-making to open warfare. At the time, many of his progressive contemporaries criticized him for excessive caution. The “I attack” quote, for example, came from a 1915 interview in which Roosevelt defended himself from accusations that he had been too conciliatory.
[Check out Michael Wolraich’s book “Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics” at Amazon.com]
Two Republican titans dominated Congress during Roosevelt’s presidency: Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island, a suave associate of J. Pierpont Morgan; and House Speaker “Uncle Joe” Cannon, an irascible reactionary from rural Illinois. Rather than challenge their authority, Roosevelt cooperated with them to accomplish what he could. “Nothing of value is to be expected from ceaseless agitation for radical and extreme legislation,” he reasoned.
This Day in History: Sept. 14, 1901: Theodore Roosevelt is Sworn in as President After William McKinley is AssassinatedPosted: September 14, 2014
On this day in 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office as President of the United States upon William McKinley’s assassination. Roosevelt was 42 at the time, making him the youngest President until John F. Kennedy.
McKinley, who had been extremely resistant to accepting security measures, was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz about a week earlier in Buffalo, New York. Afterwards, Congress assigned the Secret Service the duty of protecting the President.
[a preview video of McKinley’s assassination from Ken Burns’s The Roosevelts]
Photo: Assassination of President McKinley. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
On this day in 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York. France’s gift to America crossed the Atlantic dismantled in crates aboard the French steamer Isère, which nearly sank in a storm during the voyage.
It took a year to completely assemble the statue on Bedloe’s Island, now called Liberty Island. On October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland presided over the dedication ceremony. Read the rest of this entry »
This morning on ABC News ‘This Week’, panelist Gwen Ifill summarizes Obama’s Press Conference admission thusly: ‘We Know What’s Good for You. We Just Don’t Know How To Do It’. I laughed out loud. It was an unexpectedly insightful indictment.
Gwen nailed the reality of of modern Big-Government incompetence. The doomed vision of liberal-progressive do-gooder-expert government solutions couldn’t have been crystalized better.
The multiple face-kicks and tabloid-style analysis of the president “falling on his sword’ at last week’s press conference made the Nov. 16th edition of ‘This Week’ unusually rich viewing.
I don’t have the video and the transcript isn’t up yet, but if you get a chance to see the next airing of ‘This Week’: Presidency in Crisis – ABC News, it’s time well spent. Also featured is a memorable segment about the Gettysburg address, with Ken Burns, and an interview with Governor Scott Walker.