A few years ago I was doing some work on the Progressive Era and needed to read a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. I bought Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex and Kathleen Dalton's Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, and for some reason never got around to the latter, even though I've subsequently learned that Dalton's book is considered the best one-volume biography of Roosevelt and the one taken most seriously by academic historians.
So last night I decided to pull Dalton's biography off the shelf on which it had sat collecting dust and start reading it, chiefly because of John McCain's professed idolization of TR. Now, my line of thought went, would be a good time to brush up on what I know about Roosevelt as various references may be made to him as the campaign proceeds. And it might provide me with blog fodder.
The first thing I noticed (in Dalton's introduction) was how many of Roosevelt's critics were sure he was a crazed warmonger. Mark Twain said of TR that he was "clearly insane...and insanest upon war and its supreme glories." William Jennings Bryan said TR was "a man who loves war." Historian Thomas Bailey believed Roosevelt was possessed of an "almost pathological bellicosity." Of course, we know TR, whatever his enthusiasms and personal escapades, behaved rather honorably as president and won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a peace between Russia and Japan. His critics seriously misjudged him. Indeed, from what I can tell so far, Dalton's biography admirably corrects both the caricatures of TR purveyed by his detractors as, in her felicitous phrase summarizing the slurs, an "unstable jingo" and the Roosevelt hero worship of his admirers.
Funny, then, that just today Andrew Sullivan writes, "McCain's trigger-happy temperament, shallow understanding of the complexities and passion for military force as the answer to everything is the bigger risk. He is a recipe for more, wider and far more destructive warfare." Well, it seems like McCain has more in common with TR than we might have suspected, including reckless accusations of warmongering being hurled at him. McCain certainly is a fallible candidate, and I do not mind robust criticisms of his actual policy proposals. But I'd like to see Sullivan defend the point that McCain has a "passion for military force as the answer to everything..." Everything? Really?