Can a Great President Also Be One of Our Worst?

U.S. Presidential History: Was Teddy Roosevelt One of Our Greatest or One of Our Worst Presidents?

Theodore Roosevelt, our 36th president, was not only an extremely popular president, but is  consistently rated as one the 5 greatest ones as well. There is no doubt that “Teddy” revolutionized the presidency by effectively bypassing the U.S. Congress in order to gain public support for his own relatively progressive political agenda.

The question is his grave egregious acts might also make him be one of our worst presidents.

Most of us are aware that Roosevelt is generally considered by both Republican and Democratically leaning historians to be the first modern president who used the “bully pulpit” to end an era of limited government.

Prior to his presidency, the government had generally given the giant figures of industry carte blanche to accomplish their goals. He was the first president  to begin reigning in these towering figures of capitalism.

Roosevelt believed that the government had the right and the responsibility to regulate big business as long as it  did not negatively affect the general welfare . In the area of conservation he used executive orders to accomplish his progressive goals.

However, there was a dark side to his use of  the bully pulpit that had a profoundly negative affect on public opinion. These damaging  parts  of Roosevelt’s legacy  warrant our sober attention and raise the question of whether or not he might be considered one of our worst presidents.

In 1902, when Senator Lodge made public a report  quoting a soldier who stated that of 160 Fillipinos subjected to water torture only 26 survived, Roosevelt privately assured that the water cure was a mild form of torture. He did go on to state at a later time that  “torture is not a thing that we can tolerate", but he never mentioned the waterboarding incident.      

As the single most important voice of our country’s ideals, Roosevelt  influenced the views of millions of people. The damage he caused by his views on civil rights and race relations can’t be measured.

For example, In a message to Congress he stated, “Every colored man should realize that the worst enemy of his race is the negro criminal, and above all the negro criminal who commits the dreadful crime of rape; and it should be felt as in the highest degree an offense against the whole country, and against the colored race in particular.”

And there can be little doubt that Roosevelt’s views on immigration still linger today. In a message to Congress he stated, “There should be an increase in the stringency of the laws to keep out insane, idiotic, epileptic, and pauper immigrants.” Imagine the affect upon the attitudes of future generations had he expressed a humane view.

Roosevelt once said that,  “I do as I believe Lincoln would have done.” If only he had acted much more consistently in such a manner.

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MAC June 15, 2012 at 08:27 PM
The "horse race" will, I fear, be very close between Wilson and Obama, as to the worst president, and the most damage wreaked upon the Constitution and the "Rule of Law." "There [is] a dark side to his [Obama's ab]use of the [executive "branch"] that ha[s] profoundly negative" impacts upon the Rule of Law, the Constitutional 'separation of Powers,' as well as "public opinion." A perfect example of Obama's un-Constitutional usurpation of POWER is his pugilistic action today of not only flouting, but DISPARAGING congress by no longer deporting young illegal immigrants!! This action--and so many more--are truly an insult to Congress, unemployed Americans, those who have immigrated here legally, the Rule of Law, and "an offense against the whole country"!!! Further, Obama's constant divisive rhetoric declaring Republicans in congress, conservatives and Americans who disagree with his policies are "racist" and hateful is "damaging," if not to "race relations," then to the political environment, to say the least. More importantly, "The [economic] damage he caused [or at least made WORSE] by his" misguided BORROWING and SPENDING, 'Stimulus,' Obamacare etc. is truly incalculable, sadly.
Avi Isseroff June 15, 2012 at 09:37 PM
In response to Ted B A very astute observation if looked at on the surface. However, it is the invalidation of the humanity of people of color by leaders such as TR and Wilson which has contributed to what you are referring to. Their influence fostered an American culture that mutilated the psyche of blacks already seriously damaged by prior generations. We still don't recognize the destructive impact we have had in contributing to hopelessneess and despair. Not enough of us have sufficiently responded with the kind of meaningful contrition that leads to welcoming in a personal way on a daily basis those who we had maimed.
MAC June 16, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Just who did "we" who are living today--150 years after slavery ended in the U.S.-- "maim"? Certainly I am sad that people were enslaved before the Civil War--and later still in other countries. Why are we supposed (in your mind/words) to feel "meaningful contrition" for something we had nothing to do with? I believe that men should be "punished for their own sins;" and I DO believe that ANY type of slavery is a grave "sin." I guess you are aware that BLACK Africans also SOLD other BLACK Africans into slavery?
Ted B June 16, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Blaming the problems of the black community today on the sins of generations ago does nothing but perpetuate today's problems and gives them an excuse to continue as is. Young black men today aren't killing each other because of the acts of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. They probably don't even know who they are. The breakdown of the family, the rise of gangs to replace those lost relationships and involvement with drugs is what is killing the black community, not the attitudes of long-dead presidents.
Maxwell Antonucci June 28, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I agree, racial issues today are driven more by present hardships and not what occurred in the past. If people spend their time placing blame on what people have done and not resolving racially-driven conflicts in the present, then it'll just become a never-ending cycle. But I do agree that Teddy Roosevelt wasn't perfect. He was able to pull the US out of the Great Depression and showed that government does have a role in creating jobs in certain areas and during difficult times. Though not all of his New Deal programs were too effective, and still stir controversy in politics today (mostly welfare and social security), I still think he was really effective. I think of him to Democrats as Ronald Reagan was to Republicans.


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