This visit was by no means random. I've been a huge TR fan as long as I can remember, drawn initially by his colorful personality and manly exploits, but later in awe of his seemingly limitless interests, talents and achievements, both in and out of office. As president, of course, he ushered in a new American Century, positioning the country as a first-tier naval power; he laid the groundwork for the National Park System; he put in place consumer protections such as the Pure Food and Drug Act; and he was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize — or any Nobel Prize, for that matter — for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese War.
During the guided tour of the three-story brownstone at 28 E. 20th St. in Manhattan where TR was raised, I was reminded of some factoids about our 26th president:
• From about age 10 on, he read at least a book a day and was said to have a photographic memory. He also wrote more than three dozens books.
• Before getting into politics, he was considered one of the country's foremost experts on North American mammals.
• He visited Egypt and toured of Europe as a youngster and spoke French well and German so-so, but read books in both languages.
Pretty impressive. And then there's the whole Rough Riders, San Juan Hill thing.
War hero, scholar, orator, essayist, politician, naturalist, diplomat, assassination attempt survivor, crusading NYC police commissioner and all-around badass — in all, TR was an astoundingly accomplished person who's commonly considered to be among the top 5 presidents in U.S. history.
And yet, there's not a chance in hell that Teddy would even be in the running for the Republican nomination if he were alive today.
How do I know? Consider the evidence:
• Teddy was from a wealthy New York family, went to Harvard, was well-traveled, well-read and spoke several languages. That makes him one of those East Coast elites you always hear about. Just ask Romney how that's worked out for him.
• Teddy gave a shit about the environment. He would not have been popular with the "drill here, drill now" crowd.
• Teddy tried to have the motto "In God We Trust" removed from U.S. coins. That wouldn't have played well in the Bible Belt.
• Teddy greatly expanded the role and prestige of the presidency. Say goodbye to the Tea Party vote.
• Teddy criticized "malefactors of great wealth" and robber barons; fought against monopolies and greedy corporations by vigorously enforcing anti-trust laws; and stood up for mine workers. In other words, Roosevelt was a communist.
• Finally, Teddy was the original progressive politician, even leaving the GOP to form a third party, the Progressive Party, aka the "Bull Moose" Party. Paging Prof. Glenn Beck.
Does anyone find it as ironic as I do that the two greatest presidents the Republican Party has produced — the other one being Lincoln, not Reagan — would have been wildly out-of-step with the party's base as it now exists? What's the matter with Kansas, indeed.
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