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The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

A new series beginning on PBS tonight:  The Roosevelts:  An Intimate History.  A seven part Ken Burns history marathon it will examine the lives of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Burns is a fairly strident liberal Democrat so it will be interesting to see if FDR and Eleanor are treated as plaster saints, or if we will sight any meaningful analysis of those complex figures.

Theodore Roosevelt was a cousin of Franklin and an uncle to Eleanor.  He loomed large over their lives, Theodore acting as conservator of the drunken, suicidal Elliott, his beloved black sheep brother, the father of Eleanor, and Franklin seeking to model himself and his career after his famous fifth cousin.  Ironically, the contrasts between Theodore and Franklin are stark.  Theodore’s brand of progressive Republicanism was rejected by his party, while Franklin was successful in remodeling the Democrat party into the embodiment of the progressive nostrums of his time.  Theodore was an extremely moral man who exercised absolute fidelity to his two wives, his first wife having died on the same day as his mother.  Franklin Roosevelt was a precursor of such bounders as JFK, LBJ and Bill Clinton who exercised the moral probity of low rent Casanovas.  Theodore Roosevelt, a man made to be a war president, was president in a time of profound peace for the nation;  FDR achieved his lasting fame as commander in chief during World War II.  Theodore’s political career ended in defeat in 1912, the Grim Reaper preventing a possible resurgence in 1920, Roosevelt having mended political fences with the Republican Party by his constant criticism of Wilson during World War I.  FDR knew unprecedented political success as President, setting the dangerous precedent of being elected four times to the office, and only the Grim Reaper ending his grip on the White House.

However, there were also strong similarities.  Both men were ardent patriots and, if they lived today, would be derided for their patriotism in some quarters.  Both were able to convey a sense of optimism and adventure to the American people.  Both were also problem solvers and not inherently ideological, except in their faith that government could be used successfully to solve the problems they confronted.  In this they differed from Eleanor, who was an ideological true believer of contemporary liberalism.

In some ways Eleanor is the most significant figure of the trio for our contemporary world.  She set the model for those who find personal fulfillment in ideological activism.  Her embrace of a laundry list of  the “good” causes of her day helped establish the concept that being a good person requires having beliefs that are “politically correct”.

I will be watching the series and I will probably eventually review\critique it.

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

10 Comments

  1. Theodore Roosevelt was certainly no liberal. He wrote that “pernicious indulgence in the doctrine of free trade seems inevitably to produce fatty degeneration of the moral fibre” and insisted that “Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.” A more trenchant rejection of the cardinal liberal doctrine of laissez-faire it would be difficult to imagine.

  2. The Colonel, as he liked to be called, defies our modern categories of political analysis. He held political opinions that would inspire, and enrage, all sections of the political spectrum today. His views were also often complex, and snippets taken from his voluminous writings and speeches often do not give an accurate portrayal of his view on an issue.

    Setting that aside, he was a force of nature in human form, a ceaseless whirlwind of activity throughout his life as he accomplished more in 60 years than most men could if a life span of 600 years were granted to them. He was TR and leaders of his calibre are rare indeed.

  3. “Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.”
    .
    “Amendment 5 – Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings. Ratified 12/15/1791.
    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

  4. “In some ways Eleanor is the most significant figure of the trio for our contemporary world. She set the model for those who find personal fulfillment in ideological activism. Her embrace of a laundry list of the ‘good’ causes of her day helped establish the concept that being a good person requires having beliefs that are ‘politically correct’. ”
    Will Ken Burns mention that she had a NY pistol permit and regularly carried a revolver? Teddy would have proud.

  5. “Will Ken Burns mention that she had a NY pistol permit and regularly carried a revolver? Teddy would have been proud.”

    True Tom and that demonstrates how liberalism has morphed over the years. Reagan used to say that he didn’t leave the Democrat party, but the Democrat party left him, and there was a fair amount of truth in that statement.

  6. Burns is a fairly strident liberal Democrat

    Do not know about ‘strident’. Richard John Neuhaus once described the editor of The Christian Century as a man who fancied his sectarian opinions were just something ‘everybody knows’. My personal favorite among illustrations that Burns’ mind is bloody incapable of critiquing or even perceiving certain narratives was his summary of the Duke rape case of 2006. You will recall that three young men had been subject to a campaign of vilification for months (in which the HLN network, the New York Times and the Durham Herald-Sun as well as over 120 Duke faculty members were participants), each of their families was compelled to pony up a six figure sum in legal fees (which reportedly cleaned one family out), and we learn at the end the whole mess was a fraud to assist the re-election campaign of the prosecutor who knew within 20 days of the incident that there had been no rape, much less one committed by Duke lacrosse players. This was Ken Burns take on it: “Do you remember in 2006 the white Duke lacrosse players that somebody had falsely charged? Remember that? Do you know what happened? The prosecutor was fired. The prosecutor was disbarred. The prosecutor went to jail for inconveniencing for a few weeks these white kids from Duke. I rest my case.”

    After you got bathed in Socialist Realism in his national parks series you got yet another rendition of the standard narrative with his series on prohibition. And now we’re going to get an infomercial for the Democratic Party. Burns, like Bill Moyers, Frontline, and POV is just another manifestation of what George Will once called the PBS formula, “seven parts propaganda, one part balance”.

  7. Burns gave a speech in 1998 entitled “Why I Am a Yellow Dog Democrat”.

    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/pj-gladnick/2014/09/13/self-proclaimed-yellow-dog-democrat-ken-burns-denies-political-bias-his

    http://liberalopinions.blogspot.com/2005/05/why-i-am-yellow-dog-democrat-ken-burns.html

    His op ed in support of Obama in 2012 leads me to conclude that he is correct in calling himself a yellow dog Democrat:

    http://www.unionleader.com/article/20121019/OPINION02/710199989

  8. His op ed in support of Obama in 2012 leads me to conclude that he is correct in calling himself a yellow dog Democrat:

    That op-ed piece is not strident. It is cretinous.

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