In 1895 anti-Semitic German politician Hermann Ahlwardt came to speak in New York City. Local Jews were very upset and there was political pressure on the police department not to provide Ahlwardt any protection. The police commissioner at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, made sure to provide the visiting speaker with an adequate police escort; he also made sure that every officer in that security detail was Jewish. There was no better response than what Roosevelt did, and his gesture symbolized New York’s and America’s commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
This President’s Day, it is worth our time to look at who we consider our favorite president. For me there is no question: Theodore Roosevelt was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived and was one of our greatest presidents.
There’s something for people of all political persuasions to like in Teddy Roosevelt. He believed in a just and fair America that respected the environment and he believed in a united country not beset by the kinds of divisions lesser leaders have allowed to fester. He supported women’s suffrage and also wanted America to be a forceful leader in the world with a very strong military He fought against monopolies, passed important laws keeping our food and medicines safe, and created national parks that protect millions of acres of land to this day.
Theodore Roosevelt came back from great tragedy that stalled his political career—his wife and mother died on the same day—and was the youngest person ever to become president. While most former presidents today cash in on their notoriety with lucrative book deals and speaking engagements, Theodore Roosevelt went on a South American safari that nearly killed him after losing the election of 1912. He was a war hero who braved Spanish cannon fire on San Juan Hill. He also once delivered a lengthy speech after being shot!
Few people in public office today could pass the character test and compare favorably to Roosevelt. He held to a code of honor that is unknown among most people we know in public life. Though he was born in to wealth and privilege that could have shielded him from hardship, he purposely strove to make himself strong and do things that were difficult. He lived his life for constant adventure and self-improvement. He was an avid reader and martial arts practitioner.
Truth, character, loyalty to the country above your immediate or self-serving interests: these are concepts that may seem quaint or get a lot of lip service, but Theodore Roosevelt lived them and expected America’s leadership to. Have our leaders lived up to the ideals Roosevelt set? How many of us can claim the levels of character and boldness that Roosevelt had? In my dreams I’m half as bold.
Though he is more closely associated with Oyster Bay on Long Island, Teddy Roosevelt was born in New York City. A few blocks from where I work in Manhattan is Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace. Sometime soon I will take time to visit and contemplate on American greatness and how we might improve upon it. In this and all matters of life, it pays to ask: What would Theodore Roosevelt do?
April 22 is Earth Day and no doubt many of the Earth Day observances will be obnoxious and useless. People have given environmentalism a bad name. Whether trying to tie helping the environment to New Age mysticism, linking terrorism to climate change, or comparing eating meat to the Holocaust, the mantle of environmentalism and appreciation of the Earth is a damaged one.
Just because hippies are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong or bad. Hippies were one of the first groups to organize against prohibitions against marijuana and now only the most dyed-in-the-wool authoritarian throwback wants to keep banning the weed. There are some things hippies get right, and appreciating nature is one of them, even if they do it in ham-handed and atrocious ways.
There is no American in history who embodied personal greatness and strength more than Theodore Roosevelt. And Teddy Roosevelt never met a nature preserve he didn’t like. To him, men who sat around inside all day were pussies who deserved to be thinned out of the bloodlines. Enjoying the great outdoors is a necessary part of life Roosevelt would tell you if he were still with us today, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate nature is some kind of effete nincompoop who should have no say in civic affairs. Even after he was president, at a time when most people retire to the quiet life, Roosevelt nearly died on an expedition in South America. You can go to the American Museum of Natural History today and see animals that Roosevelt went and shot so you could enjoy looking at them today.
Theodore Roosevelt would rightfully despise hippies and other layabouts but he would approve of Earth Day.
In order to appreciate the world and the great outdoors, it has to be there and in good working order. If you’ve ever gone to a favorite camping spot and found logging going on nearby, or seen heat-induced drought dry up streams in a favorite deer hunting spot, you will be drawn to the cause of the environment not matter what your politics.
Environmentalism used to be the exclusive province of more left-leaning groups, but now there is much common ground and elements on all ends of the political spectrum have found reason to embrace elements of the environmentalist movement.
And contemporary Earth Day observations will feature a lot of DIY community organizations acting independently and doing things that involve lower-cost, non-government solutions to some of our problems. For example, my wife is one of the founders of our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group, which is a cooperative that allows members to get fresh produce from a local farm. Flushing CSA is taking part in several Earth Day events, and CSA groups are one of a lot of different cooperative organizations out there that are doing very direct and helpful things outside of what is normally thought of as environmental activism.
Earth Day may still be stigmatized as a lot of nonsensical claptrap, but that’s not excuse not to do something that is helpful to the Earth. It’s what Theodore Roosevelt would do.