A Charter for Democracy

Today, I came across a speech delivered by Theodore Roosevelt on February 21, 1912 at the Ohio State Constitutional Convention in Columbus, OH.

As I was reading through this speech, I thought how President Roosevelt, a Republican, was speaking to me.  And I wondered what happened to this Republican Party?  T. R.’s party is one that I very much would have belonged to in 1912 (had I been able to vote!).

It is also a speech that speaks to all of us today – after nearly a hundred years, we are having the same debate T. R. was facing in his day.  That big business must be regulated to provide consumers a “square deal”  That while we stand for property rights, we must also stand for the rights of man.

The speech is quite long; the full version can be read here:

Sometimes we must reach back into history to discover who we are – I think we get wrapped up in life and, unfortunately, too little of this history is discussed in (or outside) the classroom.  It gets glossed over and we lose our roots.  We need to know this history – it defines who we are.

The Democratic Party a hundred years ago would not have been my party.  When I read blogs or comments to blogs that remind me of this history I wonder if it is the purpose of the author to to remind me of how bad the Dems were and, therefore, I should be a Republican, or if it’s to tell me, “See, the GOP is no worse (or better) than the Dems use to be?”

I don’t want the old Democratic Party of history to return.  The changes made to the Party from FDR and through LBJ were good changes.  FDR’s relief programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration, gave needed aid and jobs to whites and blacks during the depression.  Truman desegregated the military – Eisenhower was opposed.  Both parties had members that were racially biased, but as the Democrats moved toward civil rights and social justice – ideals that were previously held by the GOP, as can be seen in T. R.’s words below and in his actions while President – the GOP flipped on its head and turned into the Democrats in the guise of the GOP.  Nixon’s (Lee Atwater & Pat Buchanan’s) southern strategy went after the southern Democrats who fled their party because of the Civil Rights legislation passed in the 60’s.  So the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt are no longer recognizable as the party it was in the early 1900’s. Carl Rove, Atwater’s protégé, continued the practice during the G.W. Bush elections and, of course Ronald Reagan kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in one of the 1960s’, purporting state’s rights.

The continuing crying even today for state’s rights – we all know what that really means – and, if you don’t, go find Rand Paul’s interview on the Maddow show not long ago.  Coded language southerns understand to mean a return to the Jim Crowe laws of yesteryear.

Over four decades of race baiting – is continuing the social discord in this country and the divisiveness  that comes with it worth it all for the gain of power?  Apparently it is – but it comes not just at the expense of minorities, but all of us.

Would that the GOP return to the values of Teddy – now that would be change to root for!  I would like to see that party return.

From T.R.’s speech (emphasis added by me in blue):

I believe in pure democracy. With Lincoln, I hold that “this country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it.”

We Progressives believe that the people have the right, the power, and the duty to protect themselves and their own welfare; that human rights are supreme over all other rights; that wealth should be the servant, not the master, of the people.

We believe that unless representative government does absolutely represent the people it is not representative government at all.

We test the worth of an men and all measures by asking how they contribute to the welfare of the men, women, and children of whom this nation is composed.

We are engaged in one of the great battles of the age—long contest waged against privilege on behalf of the common welfare.

We hold it a prime duty of the people to free our government from the control of money in politics.

For this purpose we advocate, not as ends in themselves, but as weapons in the hands of the people, all governmental devices which will make the representatives of the people more easily and certainly responsible to the people’s will.

This country, as Lincoln said, belongs to the people. So do the natural resources which make it rich. They supply the basis of our prosperity now and hereafter. In preserving them, which is a national duty, we must not forget that monopoly is based on the control of natural resources and natural advantages, and that it will help the people little to conserve our natural wealth unless the benefits which it can yield are secured to the people.

Let us remember, also, that conservation does not stop with the natural resources, but that the principle of making the best use of all we have requires with equal or greater insistence that we shall stop the waste of human life in industry and prevent the waste of human welfare which flows from the unfair use of concentrated power and wealth in the hands of men whose eagerness for profit blinds them to the cost of what they do.

We have no higher duty than to promote the efficiency of the individual. There is no surer road to the efficiency of the nation.

I am emphatically a believer in constitutionalism, and because of this fact I no less emphatically protest against any theory that would make of the constitution a means of thwarting instead of securing the absolute right of the people to rule themselves and to provide for their social and industrial well—being.

All constitutions, those of the States no less than that of the nation, are designed, and must be interpreted and administered so as to fit human rights.

One hundred years later, and we still haven’t achieved the goal “to free our government from the control of money in politics.”

I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his conditions but to assist in ameliorating mankind. Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor should this lead to a war upon property. Property is the fruit of labor. Property is desirable, is a positive good in the world. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.

It has been well said that in the past we have paid attention only to the accumulation of prosperity, and that from henceforth we must pay equal attention to the proper distinction of prosperity. This is true. The only prosperity worth having is that which affects the mass of the people. We are bound to strive for the fair distribution of prosperity. But it behooves us to remember that there is no use in devising methods for the proper distribution of prosperity unless the prosperity is there to distribute. I hold it to be our duty to see that the wage—worker, the small producer, the ordinary consumer, shall get their fair share of the benefit of business prosperity. But it either is or ought to be evident to every one that business has to prosper before anybody can get any benefit from it. Therefore I hold that he is the real Progressive, that he is the genuine champion of the people, who endeavors to shape the policy alike of the nation and of the several States so as to encourage legitimate and honest business at the same time that he wars against all crookedness and injustice and unfairness and tyranny in the business world (for of course we can only get business put on a basis of permanent prosperity when the element of injustice is taken out of it).

In other words, our demand is that big business give the people a square deal and that the people give a square deal to any man engaged in big business who honestly endeavors to do what is right and proper.

Break them up and regulate!  Not what we’re hearing today.  Weak regulation and certainly no break ups.  And only three Republicans who voted with the Dems for financial reform  T. R. would be ashamed of both these parties today.

On the other hand, any corporation, big or little, which has gained its position by unfair methods and by interference with the rights of others, which has raised prices or limited output in improper fashion and been guilty of demoralizing and corrupt practices, should not only be broken up, but it should be made the business of some competent governmental body by constant supervision to see that it does not come together again, save under such strict control as to insure the community against all danger of a repetition of the bad conduct. The chief trouble with big business has arisen from the fact that big business has so often refused to abide by the principle of the square deal; the opposition which I personally have encountered from big business has in every case arisen, not because I did not give a square deal, but because I did.

We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. We have only praise for the business man whose business success comes as an incident to doing good work for his fellows. But we should so shape conditions that a fortune shall be obtained only in honorable fashion, in such fashion that its gaining represents benefit to the community.

In a word, then, our fundamental purpose must be to secure genuine equality of opportunity. No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered. No watering of stocks should be permitted; and it can be prevented only by close governmental supervision of all stock issues, so as to prevent over capitalization.

We stand for the rights of property, but we stand even more for the rights of man.

We will protect the rights of the wealthy man, but we maintain that he holds his wealth subject to the general right of the community to regulate its business use as the public welfare requires.

Strangely, this is one of those issues members of the Tea Party oppose – considering the corruption historically involved in having the legislatures choose their Senators, they want to overturn this Amendment:

Actual experience has convinced us that senators should be elected by direct vote of the people instead of indirectly through the various legislatures.

Wouldn’t our country be better if the GOP could return to these principles held dear by T.R.?  Shouldn’t both parties endeavor to follow the Constitution and work for the common good of all?

Sadly, we lack the statesmen on either side of the aisle to join together to solve our problems.  Instead the fight is over power and control.  Petty arguments and the use of archaic rules that hamstring our government so problems cannot be solved.

Until we free our government from the control of money in politics , we will continue to have the government we have – two parties from which we often can only choose the lesser of two evils.  As citizens, we need to decide soon, is this really good enough?

Wouldn’t campaign finance reform give us more choices?

Regrettably, the Citizens United decision has given more power to those attempting to control our politics.

Until we resolve these issues, we will not have the government we deserve

2 comments. Leave a Reply

  1. Lew Merrick

    Good points to remember. TR’s speeches are a good starting point. I would have to go digging, but he made another speech about the value of skills being the true wealth of our Nation. We have forgotten this as we race to the lowest (but not least) common denominator for the greatest centralization of monetary wealth.

    Winning the lottery has replaced years of work as the means to a fortune in our society. Where are those asking what is wrong with this picture? Too many “fortunes” today are founded in the trading of pieces of paper rather than the creation of real wealth. Who today remembers that GEICO once stood for the Government Employees Insurance COmpany? Why are such “associations” ignored when these companies (and there are many of them) are discussed as being the “great success” of “private investment?”

    Taking money out of politics is akin to taking air out of our atmosphere or water out of our oceans. Let us be clear about this. The issue is making sure that the electorate has the greatest say in how we are governed! The decisions about whom we may cast a ballot are determined long before the first primary election or caucus meeting. The average voter has no say in that part of the process — even if they “get active” in one party or another at the precinct level (and this is the voice of experience speaking here). The “choice” offered by the time any ballot is cast is between, as Huey Long said so well, “waiters serving up the same slop that Wall Street provides.” This is exactly why we have had failure after failure after failure!

    The only way we have a chance to change things is to give voters the power to reject then entire set of “choices” being offered. That is what adding a space on the ballot for every elected position marked None of the Above — or NOTA! Let us not continue to limit the power of the voters, let us expand them.

    I suggest that Theodore Roosevelt would have liked an election where NOTA was a “choice” given to voters.

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