Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lessons from Dead Roosevelts

If you're looking for something to rehabilitate your faith in democracy you might check out Ken Burns' 7-part documentary, "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History."

I've always found Theodore Roosevelt fascinating, especially the epiphanies that marked his life and transformed him into a conservationist, a progressive and something of a non-militarist (I'll stop well short of 'pacifist').

There was an interesting part in the segment I watched (again) last night dealing with how Roosevelt turned progressive. It came about when he concluded that the two mainstream parties had become mirror images of each other, both divorced from the needs and interests of ordinary Americans.

The term "political capture" wasn't in use in the early 20th century yet that seems to be what Roosevelt was getting at and why he thought America needed a third party to champion progressivism and restore representative democracy to the people. You can find much of Roosevelt's thinking in the text of his Square Deal speech.

I think the neoliberal era we've endured for the past 30+ years has returned us to the conditions that Roosevelt decried just over a century ago.

Our mainstream parties have become almost mirror images of each other and are well divorced from the needs and interests of our people. Time and again we're forced to watch Trudeau emulate his predecessor.  All of Trudeau's inspirational campaign talk about electoral reform, social licence and such was promptly shed like a snake's skin once he gained power.

We need a Theodore Roosevelt and, no, I don't mean the NDP. Whatever grand principles they once claimed were too freely jettisoned as first Layton and then Mulcair led the rampage to the centre/centre-right with the approval of most of their rank and file. Like the Liberals and the Conservatives, they're running a serious trust deficit.

If you haven't read the Square Deal speech or at least one of my several summaries of it, just click on the link. Read Roosevelt's words and then ask yourself if what he espoused more than a century ago isn't desperately needed in Canada today. Ask yourself if you can think of a better way to free Canadians from the shackles of neoliberalism.


Toby said...

Why aren't we electing the best and brightest, most socially responsible to high office? Why aren't they running for office? For the last 40 years or so going to the polling booth is an exercise in futility, a chance at choosing between dumb and dumber or one crook versus another. Did television do this to us?

The Mound of Sound said...

From what I've learned of both Roosevelt's, Toby, both brought to office a high commitment to public service - for the public, not special interests. Both came from established privilege but set that aside to pursue the common good. Both managed to stay free of their party shackles. The reverence the ordinary citizen had for these two was incredible and their respective deaths shook their nation.

I think we have a darker time ahead of us before we see their like again.

Toby said...

Mound, I agree with McLuhan that prolonged exposure to any media has an effect on the way we think. The first Roosevelt lived when print was dominant; the second a mixture of print and radio. Nixon found out the hard way that television exposes too much. Mound, you and I and a few others can walk away from TV unscathed but far too many take the bait, hook, line and sinker; TV isn't called the boob tube for nothing. I have a suspicion that TV scares many really smart, talented people away from politics.

Now we have the Internet and political leaders using social media, for better or worse. Twitter is the perfect media for people who can't think in complete sentences, perfect for misinterpretation, perfect for spreading nonsense. What kind of a society can people have when the primary form of communication is capped at 140 characters? Can you imagine either of the Roosevelts running their Presidencies via Twitter? There is no room on Twitter for properly expressed ideas.