Who is a Progressive? by Teddy Roosevelt

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In a speech that is just as true of today as it was in the days when it was first spoken, Teddy Roosevelt, before he became President, opined on who Progressives really are. I strongly suggest that everyone read the whole speech, but I have included a few excerpts of what I think are the key parts, beginning with this.

    The Republican party is now facing a great crisis. It is to decide whether it will be, as in the days of Lincoln, the party of the plain people, the party of progress, the party of social and industrial justice; or whether it will be the party of privilege and of special interests, the heir to those who were Lincoln’s most bitter opponents, the party that represents the great interests within and with out Wall Street which desire through their control over the servants of the pubic to be kept immune from punishment when they do wrong and to be given privileges to which they are not entitled.

We all know how that one turned out, don’t we?

More below the fold

The speech itself can be read in it’s full form here

It begins . . .

In his recent speech at Philadelphia President Taft stated that he was a Progressive, and this raises the question as to what a Progressive is. More is involved than any man’s say-so as to himself.

A well-meaning man may vaguely think of himself as a Progressive without having even the faintest conception of what a Progressive is. Both vision and intensity of conviction must go to the make-up of any man who is to lead the forward movement, and mildly good intentions are utterly useless as substitutes.

The essential difference, as old as civilized history, is between the men who, with fervor and broad sympathy and imagination, stand for the forward movement, the men who stand for the uplift and betterment of mankind, and who have faith in the people, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, the men of narrow vision and small sympathy, who are not stirred by the wrongs of others. With these latter stand also those other men who distrust the people, and many of whom not merely distrust the people, but wish to keep them helpless so as to exploit them for their own benefit.

“To keep them helpless so as to exploit them”

Nothing could better sum up the modern Republican party and their alliance with Big Business and the Special Interests.

So, who is a Progressive in the eyes of Teddy Roosevelt?

Every man who fights fearlessly and effectively against special privilege in any form is to that extent a Progressive. Every man who, directly or indirectly, upholds privilege and favors the special interests, whether he acts from evil motives or merely because he is puzzle-headed or dull of mental vision or lacking in social sympathy, or whether he simply lacks interest in the subject, is a reactionary.

Every man is to that extent a Progressive if he stands for any form of social justice, whether it securing proper protection for factory girls against dangerous machinery, for securing a proper limitation of hours of labor for women and children in industry, for securing proper living conditions for those who dwell in the thickly crowded regions of our great cities, for helping, so far as legislators can help, all the conditions of work and life for wage-workers in great centers of industry, or for helping by the action both of the National and State governments, so far as conditions will permit, the men and women who dwell in the open country to increase their efficiency both in production on their farms and in business arrangements for the marketing of their produce, and also to increase the opportunities to give the best possible expression to their social life. The man is a reactionary, whatever may be his professions and no matter how excellent his intentions, who opposes these movements, or who, if in high place, takes no interest in them and does not earnestly lead them forward.

We have entered into an era of American history that is very much like the days of Roosevelt. Income distribution and the inequality in wealth distribution have led to another era much like the days that came before the Great Depression, and while we listen to the John Boehner’s of the world harp upon the woes of Corporations like BP and Too Big To Fail banks, while griping about the laziness of the unemployed and the need to sacrifice today so that the War Profiteering can go on and on and on, we should remind ourselves who are true enemies really are. They are, indeed, the same men who “uphold privilege and favor the special interests” as they were almost 100 years ago.

And while Roosevelt’s speech was critical of then President William Howard Taft, who called himself a Progressive yet was not nearly as Progressive as he could have been in Roosevelt’s eyes, Roosevelt’s goal was not to simply bash President Taft.

In much the same way, those who claim the title of “Progressive” for themselves should not simply bash our current President for not being Progressive enough. I have been guilty of this myself.

Rather, we Progressives should start making the case against our true enemies, those who would “uphold privilege and favor the special interests” over the best interests of the citizens of America, such as every person who claims the title “Conservative” does today, whether they be registered as a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or any other political affiliation. The people who blame the poor for their poverty, the unemployed for their lack of quality work, those who blame the hungry for their hunger are NOT walking in the footsteps of Jesus, nor are they anything but the enemy of their suffering countrymen.

What do Democrats stand for? We see who Republicans stand for, and it is indeed the same enemies of President Lincoln, the wealthy and the special interests. Republicans stand only for wealth, power, and themselves,  this is plainly obvious to everyone outside of the Republican party itself, but what do Democrats stand for? This is sometimes a mystery, moreso now that there are so many ideologically “Conservative” Democrats pushing the party to the right and in agreement with the special interests.

I do not know what Democrats stand for. If we knew, we could make a better case for Democrats and Democratic policies to the public, a public that the Republican party clearly does not care for when asked to choose between special interests and the American public.

But I do know what Progressives stand for, and it is what I fight for, and why I count myself among those who stand with the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt.

We who stand for the cause of progress, for the cause of the uplift of humanity and the betterment of mankind, are pledged to eternal war against tyranny and wrong, by the few or by the many, by a plutocracy or by a mob. We stand for justice and for fair play; fearless and confident we face the coming years, for we know that ours are the banners of justice and that all men who wish well to the people must fight under them. We fight to make this country a better place to live in for those who have been harshly treated by fat; and if we succeed, it will also be a better place to live in for those who have been treated? None of us can really prosper permanently if masses of men and women are ground down and forced to lead starved and sordid lives so that their souls are crippled like their bodies and the fine edge of their every feeling is blunted.

I ask that those of us to whom Providence, to whom fate, has been kind, remember that each must be his brother’s keeper, and that all must feel their obligation to the less fortunate who work beside us in the strain and press of our eager modern life. I ask justice for the weak for their sakes, and I ask it also for the sake of our own children, and of our children’s children who are to come after us. This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in if it is not a reasonably good place for all of us to live in. When I plead the cause of the crippled brakeman on a railway, of the overworked girl in a factory, of the stunted child toiling at inhuman labor, or all who work excessively or in unhealthy surroundings, of the family dwelling in the squalor of a noisome tenement, of the worn out farmer in regions where the farms are worn out also; when I protest against the unfair profits of unscrupulous and conscienceless men, or against the greedy exploitation of the helpless by the beneficiaries of privilege in all these case I am not only fighting for the weak, I am also fighting for the strong. The sons of all of us will pay in the future if we of the present do not do justice in the present. If the fathers amuse others to eat bitter bread, the teeth of their own sons shall be set on edge. Our cause is the cause of justice for all, in the interest of all. Surely there was never a more noble cause; surely there was never a cause in which it was better worth while to spend and be spent.

Peace and Love to all.

You can follow me on Twitter @JesseLaGreca

Crossposted at The Progressive Electorate.com


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    • robodd on July 1, 2010 at 06:20

    . . . . because he is puzzle-headed or dull of mental vision or lacking in social sympathy, or whether he simply lacks interest in the subject, is a reactionary

    Tea and lack of sympathy indeed.

  1. embedded in your entire thesis.  

    There are problems I have with it.

    I agree, and I think most liberals would, with your analysis of Republicans — they’re corporatists, the “party of special interests” and so on.

    Thus it would follow that these are anti-democratic forces in our government, and that they are at least somewhat represented by the label “Republicans”.  Let us just for a moment, therefore, a proposition, that Republicans, though they may be a perfectly legitimate party by the legal mechanisms that exist in our government, are a wholly corrupt influence, that is not changing or changeable, in favor of the powerful, to be eliminated by whatever legitimate means exist (that is, eviscerating them by popular opinion and the vote).

    That is, we can take them out of the equation, already, because we agree they are the “other”, the party that has no essential redeeming value.

    However, what is incompatible with legitimate government is “one party rule”.  This anathema applies WHETHER OR NOT there is a “second party”, where that party can effectively be dismissed from debate, because it is INSANE.

    Progressive government is incompatible with one party effective rule.  What we are told on places like Daily Kos is, if we don’t like Republicans, there is one place we can go — and that is, to the Democrats.

    This is not progressive government and it is not democracy, at all.  We are also told, “we can make the Democrats better,” but this is, again, a chimera, a lie, and a betrayal of what you call progressive principles.

    Progressive principles depend on an active government with AT LEAST TWO, IF NOT MORE, parties, that can engage in spirited and honest debate, and make decisions about the policies it wants thereto.

    Therefore you are in a conundrum.  You cannot argue that the Republicans are crazy and that in effect the only responsible choice is to join the Democrats.

    That is, you can argue that, but if you do, you are not actually a progressive, you are a would-be autocrat espousing one party effective rule.  I say, “effective”, because this idea and this tactic of eliminating Republicans from the conversation, however much I might even agree with it, philosophically, then leaves one effective party — and going on that way doesn’t work, no matter what the Democrats are like.

    Like many of your essays, my friend, I cannot actually determine if you are arguing that.  What I do know is that Daily Kos is full of boogeyman thinking and extortionist reasoning .. vote for the Democrats (or, at least, better ones, wherever they can be found), because the Republicans will rape your children.

    Even if it is true, even IF the Republicans WOULD rape your children, it is no answer and is not truly liberal, nor progressive, but more akin in the aspect I am addressing, to Soviet Communism at least in its one party aspect.  No one would claim the Democrats are, policy wise, like the Communists — but this is a one party argument.

    It cannot be maintained with a straight face.  You have two choices — argue that the Republicans are a legitimate and honest party (which they aren’t, I would agree), or stop promoting the Democrats (in general) as the answer – to anything, except another form of anti-democratic slavery.  Because, they cannot be the one party left, and be consistent with anything approaching “progressivism”.

  2. equality. A progressive is a tireless advocate for the poor, the sick and the innocent. A progressive is an authentic human being who puts his money where his mouth is. Unfortunately, both our parties are composed almost entirely of homogenized parasites who would sacrifice almost anything to keep their jobs, prestige and health insurance. Bastards!

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