Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Teddy Was No Conservative," Says Ronald J. Pestritto

(Thanks go to Dan O'Toole CMC '09 for pointing me to this op-ed)

CMC alum, Ronald J. Pestritto, has a masterful op-ed in yesterday's Wall Street Journal on Teddy Roosevelt. Pestritto is a professor at Hillsdale College where he studies progressivism and the American founding. 

As students of Professor Charles Kesler's Liberalism and Conservatism know well, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt were more alike than there were different. Pestritto illuminates this point. 
It was the Republican TR, who insisted in his 1910 speech on the "New Nationalism" that there was a "general right of the community to regulate" the earning of income and use of private property "to whatever degree the public welfare may require it." He was at one here with Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who had in 1885 condemned Americans' respect for their Constitution as "blind worship," and suggested that his countrymen dedicate themselves to the Declaration of Independence by leaving out its "preface" -- i.e., the part of it that establishes the protection of equal natural rights as the permanent task of government.
Petritto, ever knowledgeable that he's writing for the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page, suggests that we follow the American founding, rather than the progressives. He suggests that John McCain's greatest moment may have come when he went after Obama's plan to "spread the wealth" around, but that such an attack was half-hearted at best. So what for conservatives in the future? He writes, 

Looking ahead, conservatives hardly need to look back to progressives for inspiration. If there is a desire to "conserve" or restore something about our political tradition that has been lost with the rise of modern liberalism, how about the American founding as a model? It is with the founders that we can find the patriotic promotion of America as an exceptionally great nation -- a notion that attracts some conservatives to TR.

The difference is that, with the founders as a model, we get the idea of American greatness, but without the progressives' assault on the very enduring principles that justify America's claim to greatness in the first place.