Teddy Roosevelt: Republican. Thomas Sowell: ?

Perhaps because of its association with the far left of the modern political spectrum, a cohort of conservative commentators, including the distinguished Thomas Sowell, now take strong exception to anything labeled “progressive.” This extends back a century or more, so Sowell exhibits a powerful dislike for anything promulgated by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Sowell and those who share his views brand Roosevelt as a political opportunist, or worse, a hypocrite, for the stances he tool in his second term and after leaving office. Reading through the first pages of Kathryn Dalton’s Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, one finds the basis for a very different case. Roosevelt, and the Republican Party as a whole, were always the party of the rugged individual, of the entrepreneur, of the “little guy.” Roosevelt understood, for example, that plutocracy is simply another form of aristocracy, and that not only is it anathema to the American character and bad for both the consumer and the entrepreneur, it presents a danger to the democratic system itself.

What Roosevelt did was forgo ideology in favor of what he saw as intellectual honesty and a deep loyalty to the founding principles of the republic. In so doing, he enshrined a principle of Republican politics that stood until at least the mid-1970s. It is an obligation incumbent upon any Republican to protect the individual against those who would oppress that person from behind the mantle of government authority or the legal fiction of corporate personhood.

This should be the true litmus of a Republican, not the degree to which he defends big business, big defense, and a social agenda.

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