President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, has been covered well, analyzed up one side and down the other, and the overly cool, aloof elitist attempting to channel the boisterous Buffalo-and Spaniard-hunting Rough Rider almost sufficiently mocked. Almost, but not quite.
Perhaps more could have been made of the fact that ex-president Teddy Roosevelt (and hence his pale shadow — am I the first person to call Obama pale?) chose Osawatomie for his “New Nationalism” speech to take part in dedication of a park to celebrate the exploits of John Brown, whose terrorism near there helped give Kansas the sobruquet “Bleeding Kansas” before the war that he helped provoke at Harpers Ferry. In the Pottawatomie Massacre of May 1856, for example, Brown, four of his sons, and several others, sought out pro-slavery Kansans and hacked them to death:
… three men were escorted [from their home] by their captors out into the darkness, where Owen Brown and one of his brothers killed them with broadswords. John Brown, Sr. did not participate in the stabbing but fired a shot into the head of the fallen James Doyle to ensure he was dead.
Brown and his band then went to the house of Allen Wilkinson and ordered him out. He was slashed and stabbed to death by Henry Thompson and Theodore Winer, possibly with help from Brown’s sons. From there, they crossed the Pottawatomie, and some time after midnight, forced their way into the cabin of James Harris at sword-point. Harris had three house guests: John S. Wightman, Jerome Glanville, and William Sherman…. Brown’s men let Glanville and Harris return to the cabin. William Sherman was led to the edge of the creek and hacked to death with the sword….
The association of his “New Nationalism” apparently embarrassed TR, for a few days after his speech, according to Ben Soskis in The New Republic, quoted by Ron Radosh in his explanation of Why Barack Obama Is not a Modern-Day Theodore Roosevelt!),
“Roosevelt published another version of the speech, more conciliatory toward the forces of concentrated wealth, that he wrote himself.” Condemning the violence engaged in by John Brown … and making it clear that Brown’s contemporary successors were the socialists, Roosevelt wrote that Brown’s “notion that the evils of slavery could be cured by a slave insurrection was a delusion analogous to the delusions of those who expect to cure the evils of plutocracy by arousing the baser passions of workingmen against the rich in an endeavor at violent industrial revolution.”
“The words,” Radosh concluded, “could have been used by Obama to distance himself from today’s OWS movement, instead of making it appear that he understood and welcomed their protest.”
It is also clear that Obama was quite selective in the pieces of TR’s “New Nationalism” speech that he picked to echo. TR was emphatic, for example (in fact, unlike Obama he was always emphatic), that his “square deal” was based on “equality of opportunity” under which “every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others.” Lest anyone miss his point, he added:
One word of warning, which, I think, is hardly necessary in Kansas. When I say I want a square deal for the poor man, I do not mean that I want a square deal for the man who remains poor because he has not got the energy to work for himself. If a man who has had a chance will not make good, then he has got to quit.
TR insisted, in short, that “equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable,” and “[n]o man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.”
Thus I strongly suspect that TR would look with scorn on a system of taxation under which, according to a letter from the Joint Committee on Taxation (quoted by PolitiFact here), “slightly more than 50 percent of tax filing units actually paid no income tax.” He would have demanded, no doubt emphatically, some “service to the commonwealth” in return for the privilege of that non-payment. Nor would TR, if he were alive today, be likely to look with favor on our extensive regime of Obama-supported racial preference, since everyone who is unpreferred “carr[ies the burden of the special privileges of another” and hence cannot “give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.”