Saturday, August 13, 2016

As police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt laid out his dreams for benevolent dictatorship

If this country could be ruled by a benevolent czar, we would doubtless make a good many changes for the better. - Theodore Roosevelt, 1897

In most of the puff piece biographies written about Theodore Roosevelt, one will read about the valiant days of TR as police chief, cleaning the joint up, and rooting out the bad guys. But is that really all that happened? Nothing more? Why is it that the full story is never told, rather, it has to be pieced together?

During his time as a police commissioner, TR was actually quite unpopular. There were many who dubbed him "King Roosevelt I"(source), with some newspapers even going so far as to coin a jingle based on the notion:

East Side, West Side, all around the town, yesterday went King Roosevelt I, ruler of New York and patron saint of dry Sundays.(source)

Now, it is true, that much of Roosevelt's unpopularity as "King Roosevelt I" was directly connected to his taking away people's drinks(source), but there was more, much more to this.

As an aside, wasn't prohibition one of the crowning achievements of progressivism? And didn't that involve big government taking away people's drinks? Interesting. But I digress.

Roosevelt had a longstanding proclivity toward "strong"(which he used as a euphemistic code word for roughshod, hurtful, bully government) government. In a letter to his sister Anna, TR wrote:

If I were ... a single-headed Commissioner, with absolute power (not to speak of his having an infinitely less difficult problem to solve), I could in a couple of years accomplish almost all I could desire; were I even the member of a three headed commission, like the Boston Police Department, with absolute power, I could have accomplished very much; but, as it is I am one of four commissioners, any of whom possess a veto power in promotions.(source)(source)(source)

Now really.... Who do you know who speaks this way besides 12 year olds and young college grads who are completely out of touch with reality?

It's no wonder then, we have all of these stories of how most of the republicans in New York were just waiting with bated breath to get rid of Roosevelt. The web page for the National Park Service contains a very interesting line in this regard:

In 1895, he resigned to take the post of Police Commissioner of New York City. With this new appointment he hoped to expand his ideas of reform into new areas. Just like the Civil Service Commission, Roosevelt wanted the Police Department appointments and promotions to be based on merit rather than patronage. He tirelessly hounded corrupt and incompetent policemen, often replacing them with men who had no connection to any political machine.

With all of his talk of benevolent czars and absolute power, and the fact that the NY GOP ejected him as fast as they could, I highly doubt that Roosevelt's time as commissioner was truely as clean as the wind driven snow as they make it seem with this line here. Particularly this line of him "tirelessly hounding" "incompetent policemen". As we have seen with Obama, people enthralled with absolute power such as this have bizarre definitions for "incompetence".

This certainly matches with his letter to his sister. His "tireless hounding" had a lot to do with getting rid of people that he, and only he alone, knew to be incompetent. It is likely that there were some true incompetents. Others, however, were probably no more than simply of a different ideological persuasion than he.

Between that, and his anti-saloon campaign, Roosevelt ended up losing his job as commissioner - a job that was revoked by republicans.(source) All the reform work Roosevelt had attempted to do was for naught.

It is interesting to note, that one of Roosevelt's last acts as Governor, was to unify the job of Police Commissioner under a single head starting in 1901. This is very, very indicative of how deep his progressive ideology ran, even at that time. He wouldn't even be the one sitting in the top chair, as he had dreamed of years prior. But that power - it had to be centralized. He couldn't let it go.

Centralization for centralization's purpose. That's progressivism.

1 comment:

  1. Many posts like this end up being mis-read(sometimes, I believe, with devious intent) as simple "Roosevelt bashing" when the truth is much deeper.

    In Roosevelt's time, government acted as it had been designed - to move slowly. To slow things down, purposefully. We live in an age now where even amongst (some of) the most constitutionally minded, the poison of progressivism has crept in and government is looked upon with the following viewpoint:

    "Government's job is to get things done".

    That is an extremely improper view of government, and it is the role of government, the very viewpoint from progressivism which TR clearly held, that it is indeed government's job to "get things done". And TR held this viewpoint long, long before he made it to the presidency.

    Well, we all know who got a lot of things done. King George got a lot of things done. That's precisely the thing that the Founders attempted to protect us from. Kings who got things done. The very thing TR wanted to foist upon us. And sadly, he did. Today, government gets all kinds of things done, and mostly when we don't want it anymore.

    This is where it all begins. One man, who manages to make it to the presidency, with the viewpoint that "I can do anything I want. Try to stop me". The precedents get set, and not enough good men are even willing to stand up and tell the truth. The fact that I had to type this is self evident proof of the matter. The king will always have his defenders.

    As far as the "try to stop me" presidents and precedents that TR set in motion, we've been trying to stop them now for 100 years, and barring a handful of times, we haven't the long term success that we desperately need.