I named my first son Theodore. This wasn’t entirely because of the president Theodore Roosevelt, but it certainly didn’t hurt that he bore that name. I greatly admired him from all the biographies I’ve read.
I’ve come to believe that Theodore Roosevelt's legacy is a curse. Before him, presidents didn’t seek to push America “forward” through vigorous advocacy of government initiatives. Ever since Roosevelt, presidents have been measured by how much they do, what they start, and how they communicate their aims. Take FDR for example. His legacy was to start unsustainable entitlement programs. It is to him that we owe social security, Medicare, and a whole host of other ideas related to building up public infrastructure as a means to improve the general welfare. Government stuff has only served to grow as each subsequent president tries to prove how good they’re doing by how much they’re doing. LBJ only expanded on FDR. Carter wanted more.
There have been presidents who have slowed or stalled the growth for a time such as Reagan and, ironically, Clinton. GW Bush didn’t go full throttle but he expanded government more than anybody since Nixon.
And now we have Obama. Obama is striving to be a great president in the mode of the two Roosevelt’s. If presidential greatness is measured by how much you expand the influence of the federal government and how active you are in advancing it, than indeed he is poised to be perhaps the greatest president since FDR.
I suggest a different approach. We should start to evaluate past, present, and future presidents by how responsible they govern. Do they burden us with long term obligations for the sake of short sighted aims? Do they balance the budget and spend only what they have? Do they work to foster peace and prosperity both now and in the long term? Are they realistic rather than romantic? Do they see America as it is and realize that while it’s not perfect, it’s not that bad either? Do they genuinely think the American people are good? Are they modest and realistic about what they can accomplish in their foreign policy? Do they respect that the business of America is business and appreciate all it provides in the way of jobs, stable communities, and opportunities for people to pursue what they enjoy? Do they recognize limits? Do they advance the cause of freedom and liberty?
Modesty, gravity, realistic, restrained, and responsible are the words that must describe our next president. That is the only way we will be able to dig ourselves out of the hole we are currently digging.