Karl Rove’s Paean to T.R.

Gene Healy beat me to the punch in commenting on Karl Rove’s Time essay on Teddy Roosevelt.

My colleague (and office neighbor) John Samples is always telling me that Bush supporters are capital-P Progressives. In the course of some parallel research a while back, I happened on an article by the historian William E. Leuchtenberg that explains the Progressives’ comfort with ambitious, activist government, both at home and abroad. Fudge the language a bit in places, and it sounds frighteningly similar to the Bush administration today.

[I]mperialism and progressivism flourished together because they were both expressions of the same philosophy of government, a tendency to judge any action not by the means employed but by the results achieved, a worship of definitive action for action’s sake, as John Dewey has pointed out, and an almost religious faith in the democratic mission of America. The results of the Spanish-American War were heartily approved not merely because the war freed subject peoples from tyranny, but because, since the United States was the land of free institutions, any extension of its domain was per se an extension of freedom and democracy. It was an age that admired results, that was not too concerned with fine distinctions and nice theories. The Progressives, quite apart from sharing in the general excitement of middle-class America in the rise of the United States as a world power and the sense of identity with the nation which imperialism afforded in a time of national stress, admired anyone who could clean up the slaughterhouses or link two great oceans, who could get a job done without months of tedious debate and deference to legal precedents.

The Progressives believed in the Hamiltonian concept of positive government, of a national government directing the destinies of the nation at home and abroad. They had little but contempt for the strict construction of the Constitution by conservative judges, who would restrict the power of the national government to act against social evils and to extend the blessings of democracy to less favored lands. The real enemy was particularism, state rights, limited government, which would mean the reign of plutocracy at home and a narrow, isolationist concept of national destiny abroad, which would deny the democratic mission of America and leave the brown peoples pawns of dynastic wars and colonial exploitation.

William E. Leuchtenberg, “Progressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1916,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 39, no. 3 (Dec. 1952), p. 501