Will the Real Theodore Roosevelt Please Step Forward?

Article excerpt


Recent years have seen a revival of scholarly interest in the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Such interest has spilled over into the political realm, where various candidates, political parties and interest groups have sought to claim the old Bull Mooser as their standard-bearer. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, has frequently made references to Roosevelt to fuel speculation that he, too, may bolt the Republican Party, although this is more a tactic to garner press coverage than a realistic threat. In a recent interview on National Public Radio, Edmund Morris, biographer of Roosevelt and author of "Theodore Rex," even implied that Roosevelt was, indeed, a Democrat. In fact, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has almost ceased to refer to themselves as liberals, having decided to adopt the "Progressive" label once worn proudly by Roosevelt. All such claims to be the heirs apparent of the Roosevelt legacy are false and a blatant attempt to use that legacy to further their own interests. Nowhere is the fallacy more clear than in recent attempts by several environmental groups to use the Roosevelt image to help block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

In a recent visit to Capital Hill, Theodore Roosevelt IV, chairman of the League of Conservation Voters, invoked his ancestor's name to help rally support against President Bush's energy proposal, which calls for limited drilling on a remote and barren 2,000-acre area of the 19 million acre wildlife refuge. When challenged about his interpretation of the Roosevelt legacy on conservation, Mr. Roosevelt claimed, "to suggest that TR would abrogate the principles upon which he founded our National Wildlife Refuge System for a short-term fix to our energy problem is nonsensical" ("Theodore Roosevelt wouldn't bear ANWR drilling," Letters, Feb. 18). A closer look at the principles espoused by Roosevelt in establishing wildlife refuges, however, shows those principles to be somewhat different from the version recently touted by environmentalists.

During his term in office (1901-1909), President Roosevelt faced an energy crisis similar to the one facing the current administration. Although massive oil consumption and the dependence on foreign sources to meet that demand were not a problem of his time, Roosevelt and many others worried about the rapid consumption of American resources and the effects it would have on the country. …