Yesterday on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Governor Scott Walker gave his first speech as a candidate for president. Having recently written a screenplay about Theodore Roosevelt, I immediately remembered his famous speech in that same city just over 100 years ago. It was to be the last speech of his last campaign for president.
On the evening of October 14th, 1912, as he was setting off to give the speech, a lone gunman with a Colt .38 revolver shot him in the chest at close range. Roosevelt fell back, put his hand to his mouth and, finding no blood, concluded he probably wasn't going to die any time soon. He stood up, prevented the man who'd shot him from getting beaten to death, then insisted on being driven to the hall to speak.
Roosevelt had already been president twice, the first term resulting from the assassination of President McKinley. Now, to compete with fellow Republican, William Howard Taft, the sitting president, Roosevelt had joined the recently formed Progressive Party; but little he said was very different from the views he, and indeed Taft, had espoused before.
Almost all of them, however, are very different from those of modern Republicans, particularly ones like Scott Walker. Only when it comes to the latter's recent foreign policy bellicosity, might one find some areas of accord. Despite a large and growing bloodstain on his white shirt, Roosevelt spoke for almost an hour. A few excerpts from the speech are below.
This incident that has just occurred -- this effort to assassinate me -- emphasizes to a peculiar degree the need of the Progressive movement. Friends, every good citizen ought to do everything in his or her power to prevent the coming of the day when we shall see in this country two recognized creeds fighting one another, when we shall see the creed of the "Havenots" arraigned against the creed of the "Haves." When that day comes then such incidents as this tonight will be commonplace in our history. When you make poor men -- when you permit the conditions to grow such that the poor man as such will be swayed by his sense of injury against the men who try to hold what they improperly have won, when that day comes, the most awful passions will be let loose and it will be an ill day for our country. Now, friends, what we who are in this movement are endeavoring to do is forestall any such movement for justice now -- a movement in which we ask all just men of generous hearts to join with the men who feel in their souls that lift upward which bids them refuse to be satisfied themselves while their countrymen and countrywomen suffer from avoidable misery. Now, friends, what we Progressives are trying to do is to enroll rich or poor, whatever their social or industrial position, to stand together for the most elementary rights of good citizenship, those elementary rights which are the foundation of good citizenship in this great Republic of ours.
It is essential that there should be organizations of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize. My appeal for organized labor is twofold; to the outsider and the capitalist I make my appeal to treat the laborer fairly, to recognize the fact that he must organize, that there must be such organization, that the laboring man must organize for his own protection, and that it is the duty of the rest of us to help him and not hinder him in organizing. That is one-half appeal that I make.
Now, the other half is to the labor man himself. My appeal to him is to remember that as he wants justice, so he must do justice. I want every labor man, every labor leader, every organized union man, to take the lead in denouncing disorder and in denouncing the inciting of riot; that in this country we shall proceed under the protection of our laws and with all respect to the laws, I want the labor men to feel in their turn that exactly as justice must be done them so they must do justice. They must bear their duty as citizens, their duty to this great country of ours, and that they must not rest content unless they do that duty to the fullest degree.
Now, the Democratic party in its platform and through the utterances of Mr. Wilson has distinctly committed itself to the old flintlock, muzzle-loaded doctrine of States' rights, and I have said distinctly we are for people's rights. We are for the rights of the people. If they can be obtained best through National Government, then we are for national rights. We are for people's rights however it is necessary to secure them.
Mr. Wilson has made a long essay against Senator Beveridge's bill to abolish child labor. It is the same kind of argument that would be made against our bill to prohibit women from working more than eight hours a day in industry. It is the same kind of argument that would have to be made; if it is true, it would apply equally against our proposal to insist that in continuous industries there shall be by law one day's rest in seven and three-shift eight-hour day. You have labor laws here in Wisconsin, and the Chamber of Commerce will tell you that because of that fact there are industries that will not come to Wisconsin. They prefer to stay outside where they can work children of tender years, where they can work women fourteen and sixteen hours a day, where if it is a continuous industry, they can work men twelve hours a day and seven days a week.
Now, friends, I know that you of Wisconsin would never repeal those laws even if they are at your commercial hurt, just as I am trying to get New York to adopt such laws even though it will be to the New York's commercial hurt. But if possible I want to arrange it so that we can have justice without commercial hurt, and you can only get that if you have justice enforced nationally. You won't be burdened in Wisconsin with industries not coming to the State if the same good laws are extended all over the other States. Do you see what I mean? The States all compete in a common market; and it is not justice to the employers of a State that has enforced just and proper laws to have them exposed to the competition of another State where no such laws are enforced.
At this point, Roosevelt began to weaken. He concluded his speech by making a plea for "social and industrial justice," and then walked off stage with only minimal help. Wilson won the election. Roosevelt survived his gunshot wound and lived until 1919.
One wonders what a Republican like Roosevelt would make of a Republican like Governor Walker. Roosevelt believed in democracy and the power of government to bring about change and progress. Having graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, he continued to educate himself for the rest of his life. He loved science and had a profound understanding of nature, believing publicly, and more or less uncontroversially, in the theory of evolution. And he did more to protect the environment than any other president in American history, even if it meant standing up to timber and mining interests.
In fairness to Walker -- who did not complete college and said "I'm going to punt on that one," when asked if he believed in evolution -- Roosevelt was not forced to suck on quite so many unsavory teats in order to survive in the political arena of his day. I suspect, however, that even if he were alive today, he would probably refuse to take money from mining interests, and indeed from many sources of finance the Democrats rely on.
Theodore Roosevelt was widely known as TR. I'd be curious to hear from any modern Republicans who wish there was a candidate for them to vote for who is less Tea Party and more TR.