Sunday, August 28, 2011

What We Need Now - Another Square Deal

Nothing would please me more than the implementation of an entirely conservative policy platform.   The conservative was US President Theodore Roosevelt.   The policy platform was Roosevelt's "Square Deal."

Roosevelt's policy focused on environmental conservation, reining in corporate excesses and basic consumer protection.  Bear in mind that what follows was said in 1910, a long century ago:

...the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said:


"I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind."

And again:

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

...In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth. 

...our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice-full, fair, and complete-and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs

...The duty of Congress is to provide a method by which the interest of the whole people shall be all that receives consideration.

The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. 


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-not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective-a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

The people of the United States suffer from periodical financial panics to a degree substantially unknown to the other nations, which approach us in financial strength. There is no reason why we should suffer what they escape. It is of profound importance that our financial system should be promptly investigated, and so thoroughly and effectively revised as to make it certain that hereafter our currency will no longer fail at critical times to meet our needs. 

...Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation. 

...Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation. Let me add that the health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part. 

Nothing is more true than that excess of every kind is followed by reaction; a fact which should be pondered by reformer and reactionary alike. We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains 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

...One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests.

...In the last analysis, the most important elements in any man’s career must be the sum of those qualities which, in the aggregate, we speak of as character. If he has not got it, then no law that the wit of man can devise, no administration of the law by the boldest and strongest executive, will avail to help him. We must have the right kind of character-character that makes a man, first of all, a good man in the home, a good father, and a good husband-that makes a man a good neighbor. You must have that, and, then, in addition, you must have the kind of law and the kind of administration of the law which will give to those qualities in the private citizen the best possible chance for development. The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive

Every few years I like to return to Roosevelt's 1910 speech to recalibrate my political compass.  He speaks of a great political morality that has been abjectly trampled upon through the rise of corporatism over the past thirty or forty years.


Roosevelt warned his countrymen back then that direct or indirect corporate funding leads directly to the corruption of government.  That's a lesson every Canadian needs to grasp as our own country descends into Petro-statehood.

Teddy Roosevelt makes the point that progressivism is more than quaint notions.   It is a fundamental requirement of any sound society.  "Public men must be genuinely progressive."  In those words you'll find the perversion of anything remotely conservative in today's Conservative Party of Canada.  Harper has taken his radical movement so far beyond the political philosophies pronounced by Burke, Lincoln and Roosevelt that they would not consider it conservative.   It was Harper who demanded that "progressive" be expunged from the name of his party and from its twisted soul.

I am more deeply troubled when the question becomes whether the Liberal Party has itself drifted far to the right of Roosevelt's progressivism.  I believe it has.   That it was willing to annoint as its leader a man with the views of Michael Ignatieff cannot be overlooked.   The Liberal Party wonders how it came to fall from Sussex Drive to Stornoway to Motel 6 yet that ugly road was paved by its rejection of progressivism.

More than anyone else, the movers and shakers within the Liberal Party need to digest Roosevelt's speech and stop treating progressivism as a weakness or, worse, some disease no longer relevant in the 21st century.   Our country has fallen into the throes of corporatism - there's the disease that plagues our people.  We're lucky in that it's not yet terminal as it has become within our neighbour and major trading partner.   We can - and must - bring it to heel - through reining in corporate power, putting corporations into service of the public, strong environmental regulation and, above all else, sharply reversing the wealth gap between rich and poor.  We need a Square Deal.



3 comments:

Kev said...

Thanks, I wasn't aware of this speech before reading it here.

Without a knowledge of history we render ourselves incapable of understanding the present and preparing for the future

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Kev. I'm pretty sure Roosevelt's observations resonate with your own views. Roosevelt's warnings shine a very bright light on today's radical right wing that has misappropriated the mantle of "conservative." Sadly, the authoritarian swine now hold sway in Parliament. Edmund Burke was, on many points, of a like mind to Roosevelt's.

Kev said...

Hi MoS, They do indeed resonate with me and I can't help but be struck by just how far the beliefs of the faux conservatives of today have diverged from these principles.

In fact as you say the Liberals would do well to heed Roosevelt's message as they represent a core set of values that should be adhered to by all no matter their political stripe.