History

Mr. President, You're No Theodore Roosevelt

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Writing at The Daily Beast, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Edmund Morris responds to the news that President Barack Obama is currently reading one of his books about Theodore Roosevelt. Love him or hate him, there's no denying that Roosevelt was a man of action and a gifted political operator. As for Obama, Morris thinks the current president doesn't exactly measure up:

I'm flattered that Obama is reading The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, instead of those fascinating 15,000-page bills Congress keeps sending him. But I'd respectfully suggest that he will learn more about the Rooseveltian executive style in the book's sequel, Theodore Rex. Perhaps just the opening chapters, Mr. President, describing TR's first year (1901-1902) in office? They show how, in swift but carefully timed succession, TR—a consummate manipulator of the press—dramatized and identified himself with the major issues of his day: racial prejudice, antitrust power, reclamation policy, Supreme Court reactionism, labor/management strife, and so on. Some of the details are dated now, but what is dateless and of particular relevance to Obama is TR's karate-chop style. He chose the issue, chose the moment, then struck with all his might. Having struck, he went on to other things, leaving the legislative and the judiciary and a wildly excited press to debate, and maybe push through, the reforms he sought.

Sometimes TR had to settle for less, or even abandon a cause he passionately espoused. But blow after blow established him in the public mind as a man of decisive courage, and the moral superior of those who liked to talk rather than act.