Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Terrified of Teddy?

Explanations for John McCain's unpopularity with much of the conservative base of the Republican Party, despite his best efforts to ingratiate himself with them, for which he is justly criticised by liberals, tend to focus on his past quarrels with George W Bush and his support for campaign finance reform. But how much reflects dislike of his political hero Teddy Roosevelt? He is regarded with hostility by conservatives as a standard bearer of progressivism and big government; see the book denouncing him here and a more thoughtful critique here. Martin Sklar and Gary Gerstle in unusual senses try to reclaim aspects of TR's legacy for the left, although the racism and imperialism certainly makes this difficult. Another interpretation might see TR's themes as appealing to the elusive centre:
To the extent that his ideology survived in the following decades—and in many respects it did not—it was in the "liberal Republicanism" of Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller. These Republicans were internationalist where their party's "Old Guard" was isolationist, supportive of the welfare state while the right denounced "creeping socialism," and confident in the rule of enlightened elites even as their more populist party-mates denounced the effete, striped-pants liberals of the New Deal….Given how much things have changed, this makes sense. Calls for moral renewal and the strenuous life no longer go hand in hand with demands for an active regulatory state. The few souls in our pro-market culture who still denounce "malefactors of great wealth" certainly don't champion the "Americanization" of hordes of immigrants. Conservative Progressivism has become an oxymoron. ..Yet the alignment of the political parties along ideological lines has also created a bloc of independent voters who aren't thrilled with either party's platform. Ross Perot and John McCain supporters and other "disaffected" voters dislike both the Republicans' coziness with big business and the Democrats' lack of mettle. One reason for all the TR talk, then, is a wish to reach this independent center, once occupied in part by liberal Republicans, by appropriating Roosevelt's willingness to stand up today's too-powerful trusts while adopting a muscular language of virtue. Those who can pull off this trick in the coming months and years may win more than the battle for TR's legacy. They may get themselves elected.



At 7:32 AM, Blogger John Murney said...

John McCain doesn't really belong in the GOP anymore; none of the Eisenhower Republican-types do.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Geoff Robinson said...

I think there's truth in late, but he an ardent flag waver.


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