The Life of the Party
Roosevelt would consider the acquisition of rights to the Panama Canal the signal achievement of his tenure as president. He thought the American people would, too, and he was surprised when Republican spokesmen in the campaign of 1904 didn't make more of the great work he had done on behalf of America and the world. "Can you not tell our speakers to dwell more on the Panama Canal?" he asked Senator Nathan Scott, chairman of the Republican speakers' bureau. "It does not seem to me that nearly enough stress is laid on this." The more the Republicans pushed the issue of the canal, the better off they would be. "We have not a stronger card."
The fact that Roosevelt needed to make this suggestion indicated that not all the Republicans agreed that Panama was their trump against the Democrats. Their assessment reflected a belief that imperialism--a term Roosevelt resisted but one that fairly captured his strong-armed assertion of American influence in the Western Hemisphere and beyond--wasn't as popular among the American people at large as it was in the circles Roosevelt frequented. This belief was well founded, especially in the aftermath of the Philippine war. Roosevelt could talk all he wanted about America's responsibility to the benighted Filipinos (as to the almost equally underprivileged Puerto Ricans and Cubans), but the idea never caught on outside a rather small group of mostly Republicans. Short, glorious foreign wars like that with Spain were acceptable; dirty wars that dragged on for years, like that in the Philippines, were demoralizing and distasteful. Fortunately for Roosevelt, the war in the Philippines ended by the summer of 1902, essentially removing it as a campaign issue; if he had had to campaign on that, he would have been in trouble.