Friday, October 01, 2010

Book Review: Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

How long does it take to properly evaluate the historical ramifications and legacy of a Preisdent? Definitely longer than a cables news network segment. A full century seems like long enough for Edmund Morris. Morris tackles Roosevelt's presidency from tragic start to glorious end in Theodore Rex. This is a sequel to his book about Roosevelt's rise. It is a truly interesting read on a whirlwind presidency.

Morris starts the narrative with Roosevelt's isolation as he learned of the death of President McKinley. The book traces his development on the fly in the White House from energetic learner to elder statesman of his party who was sad to be leaving the White House at the tender age of 50. What is interesting to read is how despite being so full of piss 'n' vinegar he was very conscious of seeking help from the elder guides of McKinley's administration to help him become the amazing force he would grow to be as POTUS. History classes would be smart to discuss in class how one of the best presidents the USA has ever had came to power because of an overzealous anarchist. While we constantly want to think that we live in the most exciting age of all time, many different eras are eras of change or have incredibly turbulent movements. Roosevelt was a dynamic person perfect for a rapidly changing era.
As a slight detour, this book does discuss a woman meant for another era. Teddy's first daughter, Alice Roosevelt, was made for today. She was 100 years ahead of her time. She was smart, sexy and made for media. I do mean sexy as she was attractive for olden times standards and holds up well with today's definition of beauty. In today's world, she'd have a twitter, Facebook fan page, and maybe a talk show... as long as they could keep her out of clubs, poker games and bars. She had a special relationship with her father as she was his only daughter with his first wife. Yes, the first family was a blended family and had its own inner conflict at times. Mom and stepdaughter were not just of different blood but of different substance.

Roosevelt is a man who was himself, and just happened to be part of the GOP. Roosevelt is beloved by the GOP and if you ask a true blue Democrat, TR would be their favorite Republican President of the 20th century. He was not a pure conservative by ideology. He was very 'progressive' and sided with the common man for a square deal as the 'trust buster'. Normal for his day, Teddy was also bigoted on many fronts and found time to make handshake deals with some big business to not obstruct a merger. It is interesting how the idea of the corporation and even bigger, the trust, were large issues in that day and threw everyone for a loop as the idea was so alien to normal civilization. I do not think we've properly learned how to handle them still.
This book does not skim over his conflicts of ideology and personality. Morris constantly mentions how TR had to display his bona fides for the Old Guard, but that he had the progressive streak in him that would come to define the split in the GOP between newer progressives and the laissez faire/small government old Guard. It does not skip over his brusque nature or his faults. There are moments where it is obvious Roosevelt's behavior and personality was a problem. Never forget, Roosevelt was a politician. A great one who knew how to steal other people's thunder, how to measure another man, and most of all, how to manipulate an event or issue to his gain. In the end, he was an absolute force that left many in awe and inspired his nation.

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