“Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism, and the effort to destroy them would be futile unless accomplished in ways that would work the utmost mischief to the entire body politic. We can do nothing of good in the way of regulating and supervising these corporations until we fix clearly in our minds that we are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.”
I will take this one half-step further, because I am sure TR would agree: implicit in this statement is the contention that our aim is not to coddle or provide aid to corporations any more than it is to attack them for simply being corporations.
The intensity of politics in a democracy emerges when the business community is challenged by other forms of countervailing power. Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, like FDR, were stigmatized by short-sighted business leaders; but their historic eminence shows their indispensable role in the dynamics of democratic capitalism. Their historic function is to rescue capitalism from the capitalists, functions belatedly recognized by intelligent capitalists themselves.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
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.