There's a reason he left the GOP to lead the Progressive Party
The fact that conservative politicians such as John McCain and writers like William Kristol and Karl Rove are attracted to our 26th president is strange because, if we want to understand where in the American political tradition the idea of unlimited, redistributive government came from, we need look no further than to Roosevelt and others who shared his outlook.
Progressives of both parties, including Roosevelt, were the original big-government liberals. They understood full well that the greatest obstacle to their schemes of social justice and equality of material condition was the U.S. Constitution as it was originally written and understood: as creating a national government of limited, enumerated powers that was dedicated to securing the individual natural rights of its citizens, especially liberty of contract and private property.
It was the Republican TR, who insisted in his 1910 speech on the "New Nationalism" that there was a "general right of the community to regulate" the earning of income and use of private property "to whatever degree the public welfare may require it." He was at one here with Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who had in 1885 condemned Americans' respect for their Constitution as "blind worship," and suggested that his countrymen dedicate themselves to the Declaration of Independence by leaving out its "preface" -- i.e., the part of it that establishes the protection of equal natural rights as the permanent task of government....
In his New Nationalism speech he noted how, in aiming to use state power to bring about economic equality, the government should permit a man to earn and keep his property "only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community." The government itself of course would determine what represented a benefit to the community, and whether society would be better off if an individual's wealth was transferred to somebody else. We can see the triumph of this outlook in progressive income taxation, which TR trumpeted in his speech (along with progressive estate taxes). We may also see this theory in action when a government seizes private property through eminent domain, transferring it to others in order to generate higher tax revenues -- a practice blessed by the Supreme Court in its notorious Kelo v. New London decision of 2005.
Some conservatives today are misled by the battle between TR and Wilson in the 1912 presidential election. But Wilson implemented most of TR's program once he took office in 1913, including a progressive income tax and the establishment of several regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission. Others are misled by TR's crusade against an activist judiciary. But unlike our courts today, the judiciary during the Progressive era properly struck down legislation that violated our bedrock rights to liberty of contract and private property. TR hated the judiciary precisely for standing up for the Constitution; this is certainly no reason for conservatives today to latch on to his antijudicial rhetoric.
I think that another reason why TR is sometimes identified as a conservative is his warlike foreign policy. America built lots of battleships and took over several countries (Cuba, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii) under his influence. But that is in fact not conservative at all. American conservatism is traditionally isolationist. It was Democrats who dragged America into most of its wars -- from WWI to Serbia. Conservatives go to war only when attacked, as in the response by GWB to the 9/11 events. Which is also why FDR pushed Japan into war. He knew that Americans up to that point wanted no part of WWII. TR also had generally realistic views about race -- with his warning about Japan being particularly prescient -- and that certainly separates him from modern-day Leftists. But that did not at all separate him from the Leftists of his day
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here