John McCain likes to say that one of his heroes or idols or whatever is Teddy Roosevelt – the Republican President at the beginning of the 20th Century. This writer is also a fan of Roosevelt. While there are similarities in these men, there are also distinct differences. These differences are rooted in their upbringing.
Teddy Roosevelt’s grandfather made a small fortune in the glass business – the Roosevelt family provided glass for many of the new buildings in the growing metropolis of New York City. The family wisely invested their money in Manhattan real estate. After the grandfather died his sons took over the business. Teddy’s uncle ran the business while Teddy’s father participated in New York philanthropy – engaging social issues of the down and out; ‘the least of these.’
Teddy’s father was the significant parent in his life. Teddy was a sickly child, suffering debilitating asthma. It was his father who would sit up through the night with the deathly ill child. Biographies of Teddy Roosevelt give little mention to his mother – noting the importance of his socially aware father. Teddy’s father gave him a social conscience, a sense of justice, a sense of fairness. Young Teddy traveled the world with his wealthy family – gaining first hand insight into the variety of cultures and governments. His father was his interpreter – instructing his child in the interactive nature of social class and civilization.
The young Roosevelt attended Harvard University, a product of the business class, joined the Republican Party and was immediately at odds with his colleagues. Roosevelt’s sense of justice did not bode well for the Corporate Moguls, most notably J. P. Morgan. But Roosevelt rose in the ranks, was appointed Police Commissioner of New York, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It was Roosevelt who championed the building of a world class navy – paving the way for American dominance in the next century. When war broke out with Spain Roosevelt resigned his appointment and joined the Army, stating, “I will not send others to fight a war that I will not fight myself.” Roosevelt was put in charge of the ‘Rough Riders’ – a Calvary unit composed of non professional volunteers. Roosevelt won the Medal of Honor at the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba.
Roosevelt returned home a hero and was tapped for the Republican nomination for Governor of New York – which he won. He immediately frustrated his Republican colleagues – insisting that a government role was to protect the citizens from predatory corporations. The Republicans wanted to get rid of him so they promoted him to the Vice Presidency – where he could do no harm. But President McKinley was assassinated a few months into his term and Roosevelt became President.
Roosevelt battled the big corporate trusts to defend the populace. When the coal miners strike in 1901 threatened the ability of people to heat their homes Roosevelt called the Union and the owners to the White House. The Union agreed to arbitration, the owners refused. Roosevelt told the owners to negotiate or he would use the military to take over the coal mines, stating, “There are three parties in this negotiation, the owners, the unions, and the people. I represent the people.” – The owners negotiated.
When Russia and Japan went to war, disrupting world commerce, Roosevelt intervened with diplomacy – earning the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1906. There is no other person who has earned both the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize. And Roosevelt accomplished this great feat in a mere eight years. Roosevelt was one of the greatest leaders in recorded civilization.
John McCain was raised in a family steeped in the Military. His father and grandfather were Admirals in Teddy Roosevelt’s Navy. McCain was sent to Annapolis – the United States Naval Academy, his graduation rank is not important. McCain proved his rebel status early in his life – struggling with military authority in college.
While serving as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War McCain was shot down and captured by the Viet Cong – where he remained a prisoner for five and a half years. His rebellious streak served him as a POW, stubbornly resisting tortuous efforts to break his spirit – and upholding the honor of America. You can’t beat a man if a man won’t be beaten. McCain returned home a legitimate war hero.
McCain then ran for congress where he served four years before moving on to the Senate. While in the Senate he showed his independence by challenging the great President Ronald Reagan in sending troops into Lebanon. After being caught up in the “Keating Five” campaign contribution scandal McCain proved his rebellious nature again by reaching across the partisan aisle to work with Democrat Russ Feingold to write the McCain – Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act.
Both Roosevelt and McCain have proved to be a thorn in the Republican Party politics. Both are war heroes. But there is a distinct undercurrent of difference:
Roosevelt said, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
McCain likes to shout about military intervention and intimidation.
Roosevelt challenged his Republican colleagues out of a sense of justice and fairness, with a deep sense of social justice.
McCain challenges his Republican colleagues out of a long established sense of rebelliousness, with a deep sense of military justice.
McCain’s campaign slogan is Country First. Roosevelt’s heartfelt conviction was The American People First.
These are very different men.