Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt - "for Men and not for Property"

The ugliness of the current presidential election distresses me. I decline to argue or comment on the specifics of the charges and counter-charges between the President and the Governor. People have generally already chosen their champion based on politics and personal preference. Factual debate seems rather elusive as each side marshals their own political offenses to charge against the other side.

I guess I am still doing that to some degree, but it seems a little less contentious to go back into history. Thinking a lot about the modern conservative movement, I was trying to find a good quote from Republican President Teddy Roosevelt on the progressive income tax. I have also pondered on the apparent connection between conservatives and anti- civil rights sentiment (anti- immigration reform, anti- social programs for the poor - generally minorities, etc.)

I got more than I bargained for refreshing myself on his New Nationalism Speech of 1910 (post-presidency) to a group of Union Civil War Veterans in Osawatomie, Kansas. I don't agree with everything in TR's rhetoric - particularly his veneration for John Brown (of course, he was in Kansas and before the GAR). But I was astounded not only finding a good quote on progressive taxation but much, much more. Here are some highlights:
The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. . . .
No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered-not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective-a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate. . . .
The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it. . . .
I am for men and not for property, as you were in the Civil War. . . .
Those who oppose reform will do well to remember that ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism. . . .
I love the linkage between the fight to free the Slaves as the fulfillment of our Founders' dream and the economic rights of all men and women for equal opportunity under the law. I recommend reading the entire speech.

It sure would nice to put to rest the silly claim that President Obama is the most radical President ever. If only people would, then maybe I could stop drawing connections, like Teddy did, between some guy saying "Corporations are people, my friend" with the Robber Barons and Slave holders of old.

Let's put TR up here on Mount Rushmore with the Founders! Oh, wait. I guess we have that mission accomplished.

Mt. Rushmore by Dean Franklin for free use on Wikipedia
(As long as I say the political views here are mine and not Dean Franklin's)

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