Teddy Roosevelt is beaten to a pulp with his own big stick.
A senior fellow at the Cato Institute, revisionist historian Powell (FDR’s Folly, Wilson’s War, 2005) conducts an all-out assault on the presidential record of Theodore Roosevelt, who may have charmed other writers but wins not a single plaudit here. Powell indicts Roosevelt as a man who vastly expanded executive power; interfered “recklessly” in the lives of Americans and the affairs of other countries; and left a legacy of big government and global interventionism that continues to this day. Turning each of Roosevelt’s most noted actions on its head, the author argues that Teddy did not bust trusts (but promoted monopolies); did not help purify food (but helped special interests); and, most egregiously, did not advance American conservation (but “degraded much of our natural environment” through ill-advised dam-building and forest policies). What’s more, Roosevelt’s “soak the rich” federal income tax has proven intrusive and burdensome for all. Even Roosevelt’s progressive cohorts do not escape Powell’s tireless bludgeoning: Muckraking journalists were melodramatic and wrongheaded in their attacks on big business, and Jacob Riis failed to realize how much better off the poor were than in the past. Readers who share Powell’s enthusiasm for limited government and free markets will doubtless enjoy this skewering of a widely admired president; others will be astonished to read that nothing about Teddy was as it seemed, that his stated good intentions always led to dark deeds and that, no matter how appealing his heroic and romantic manner, he deserves no place on the “best Presidents” list. “Contrary to what the many worshipful books about him would have us believe, Roosevelt has proved to be a scourge rather than a salvation,” the author writes.
A diatribe in black and white that will leave many yearning for a shade of gray.