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NYTimes.com Article: For T.R., Government Was the Solution

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  • kdalton@andover.edu
    This article from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by kdalton@andover.edu. Thought folks on the list might like to see this--Kathleen Dalton
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 16, 2002
      This article from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by kdalton@....

      Thought folks on the list might like to see this--Kathleen Dalton


      For T.R., Government Was the Solution

      July 14, 2002

      PRESIDENT Bush went to Wall Street on a mission last week.
      He wanted to reassure a skittish financial community
      worried that cascading stories of malfeasance by big
      business will further undermine public confidence. Mr. Bush
      recently talked of looking for inspiration in another
      president who led the nation in an era of corporate
      wrongdoing: Theodore Roosevelt. But Mr. Bush might not
      realize that Roosevelt was far more radical than any
      Republican of today. In fact, Roosevelt advocated a
      restructuring of government-business relations more radical
      than most Democrats now seek.

      While President Bush has proposed relatively minor reforms
      - like hiring additional S.E.C. regulators - these look
      tame when compared to Roosevelt's calls for a fundamental
      government intervention in the economy. He wanted national
      incorporation to make sure no corporation stayed in
      business if it violated the law repeatedly. He called for
      strict regulation of the stock market and a stronger
      Federal Trade Commission. He said he would like nothing
      better than to force companies to open their books to
      federal investigators and to make executives personally
      liable for jail when their corporations broke the law. The
      government should act like a referee, throwing cheaters out
      of the game to ensure fair play.

      Roosevelt famously railed against the "malefactors of great
      wealth." He expressed moral outrage over the human
      consequences of business abuses and stirred empathy for the
      average person who lost a job. But Mr. Bush possesses the
      sensibilities of a free market age, when political leaders
      of left and right have worked to remove the regulatory
      shackles once placed on business. His mantras have been
      privatization, lower taxes and shrinking the scope of the
      federal government. Government was not a referee for all
      the people, but a problem in itself.

      In contrast, Roosevelt was a rich man who cared little
      about money. He was disgusted by the effete sons of the
      Gilded Age elite. He disdained unbridled capitalism's way
      of abusing its workers. When Samuel L. Gompers and Jacob
      Riis took Roosevelt to see conditions in factories, coal
      mines and tenements, he came to believe that profits gained
      from exploitation were dirty money. He disliked the moral
      effect robber barons had on the country he loved.

      Roosevelt also sought radical change because his was an era
      when the public lived in fear of the new businesses known
      as trusts. Trusts regularly used intimidation and violence
      to push competitors out of business or create monopolies.
      They held employees at gunpoint, sent children to work in
      unsafe factories, bought state legislators (sometimes for
      less than $50,000 each) and earned the title "robber
      barons" by behaving like arrogant feudal lords. For much of
      Roosevelt's presidency, he fought a Congress that thwarted
      most of his efforts to put "the hand of the government" on
      lawless corporations, but he never gave up hope that the
      government could solve the problem.

      After he left office, Roosevelt moved to the left, holding
      views unthinkable for today's Republican Party and even for
      most Democrats. No major party candidate running for office
      today talks as powerfully about "distributive justice," as
      Roosevelt did in his 1912 presidential race. As the Bull
      Moose candidate, he talked about using government policies
      to discourage extremes of wealth and poverty.

      ROOSEVELT wanted to use taxes to reduce "swollen fortunes"
      via a system of "heavily progressive" national inheritance,
      corporate and income tax. Tax justice, he insisted, would
      cut millionaires down to size and diminish their ability to
      use their wealth to buy off lawmakers. To protect the
      poorer half of the population from falling into poverty,
      Roosevelt defended the minimum wage, health and
      unemployment insurance, and the use of collective

      In 1918, soon before he died, Roosevelt said he wanted to
      find a way for workers to share in the profits and the
      stock of their employers. Economic equality would be hard
      to attain, but Roosevelt asserted that political democracy
      would have no meaning without government intervention to
      cushion the poor and tame the excesses of the rich.

      For Roosevelt, the highest form of patriotism was "social
      justice," - making the American system redistribute wealth
      in order for all its citizens to have a decent life.
      Perhaps President Bush should look more carefully at his
      choice of role model.


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