Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Quote of the Day (Theodore Roosevelt, on “The Worst Offense… Against the Republic’)

“The worst offense that can be committed against the Republic is the offense of the public man who tries to persuade others that an honest and efficient man is dishonest or unworthy. This wrong can be committed in a great many ways. Downright foul abuse may be, after all, less dangerous than incessant misstatements, sneers, and those half-truths that are the meanest lies.”—U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), “The Duties of Privilege,” originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, August 1894, reprinted as “The College Graduate and Public Life” in American Ideals and Other Essays, Social and Political (1897)

Theodore Roosevelt might have imagined individuals given to “downright foul abuse” or “incessant misstatements, sneers, and those half-truths that are the meanest lies,” but not a politician who could engage in both.

He could denounce robber barons resorting to ruthless business practices like monopolies, price-fixing, and bribery, but he could never foresee that one of these “malefactors of great wealth” he had criticized in a 1907 address could simply eliminate the middle man by entering politics as a means of further enriching himself and his family.

He could call for the idle rich of his time to enter politics in order to rescue it from machine politicians, but could never have guessed that many in this educated class would acquiesce in corruption themselves.

Most of all, though he did not have much use for the Democratic Party of his day, he would never have believed that his Republican Party—the same one to which his beloved father belonged, the party of Lincoln that had saved the Union and advocated for the rights of freedmen—might one day meekly yield to new forces of disunion and leave the nation dangerously fractured along racial, ethnic, class, and religious lines.

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