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Doris Kearns Goodwin On Teddy Roosevelt And The Progressive Era

This program is rebroadcast from November 27, 2013.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on protest, reform, Teddy Roosevelt and America then and now.

In this Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 photo author Doris Kearns Goodwin stands near a bookshelf for a portrait at her home in Concord, Mass. Goodwin's latest book,"The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism," was released on Nov. 5. (AP)

In this Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 photo author Doris Kearns Goodwin stands near a bookshelf for a portrait at her home in Concord, Mass. Goodwin’s latest book,”The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism,” was released on Nov. 5. (AP)

There are a handful of times in America’s history when the country has transformed, says historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Shed old ways and emerged anew — an altered country.  She’s told that story in the history of Lincoln and the Civil War.  FDR and the New Deal.  More.  Now Americans of many stripes are wishing for a transformation again.  Dissatisfaction with the Washington status quo runs high. And this historian is telling the story of Teddy Roosevelt and the transformation of the Progressive Era.  This hour On Point:  Doris Kearns Goodwin, and what it takes to change America.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guest

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer-Prize-winning American historian. Author of “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.” Also author of “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II,” “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga” and “Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream.” (@DorisKGoodwin)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: A ‘Bully’ Defying the Bullies of His Era — “Without explicitly verbalizing them, ‘The Bully Pulpit’ points up the many parallels (and crucial differences) between the Progressive era at the turn of the 20th century and the country today: a squeezed middle class; growing gaps between rich and poor; an escalating debate over the role that the federal government should play through regulation, taxation and legislation; public frustration with a ‘do nothing Congress’; questions about White House leadership; and an often poisonous schism within the Republican Party.”

Dallas Morning News: Book review: ‘The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism’ — “As Roosevelt addressed crises such as a crippling coal miners’ strike, he would not, as Kearns writes, ‘be confined by precedent or bound by fear of failure.’ Roosevelt himself later wrote that a president may assume that ‘he has the legal right to do whatever the needs of the people demand, unless the Constitution or the laws explicitly forbid him to do it.’ This assertiveness characterized his presidency.”

Politico: Doris Kearns Goodwin weighs in on Chris Christie, William Howard Taft and big personalities — “Goodwin’s latest tome examines the Progressive Era’s first decade, the friendship between Roosevelt and Taft, and the muckracking press. She says she had always wanted to write about Teddy Roosevelt, noting that “he presented a more colorful, interesting, larger-than-life figure than most presidents do” but that she struggled to find a unique angle to the story not previously covered by other historians.”

Read An Excerpt From “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” By Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin In The WBUR Studios

Doris Kearns Goodwin in the WBUR Studios (Jesse Costa / WBUR)

Doris Kearns Goodwin in the WBUR Studios (Jesse Costa / WBUR)

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  • michael

    Ms. Goodwin just gave inaccurate info about campaign finance and Citizens United. CU did not overturn the ban against corporate contributions to candidates – which remains the law today. CU said that corporations could not be limited in their ability to speak independently about issues and candidates. If that communications is coordinated with a party or candidate, it remains banned.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    Only one comment? Great and important talk. Thank you, Doris.

    • Jon

      guess not many people taking the message of “do something to transform the nation, or change the world”?

      • HonestDebate1

        It’s a rerun and it’s Memorial Day.

        • Jon

          that’s right. history is rerun always

          • HonestDebate1

            Only when we don’t learn from it.

          • Jon

            tell me what you’ve learned from it?

    • Don_B1

      The original broadcast and the contemporaneous blog with 118 comments is available here:

      http://onpoint.wbur.org/2013/11/27/teddy-roosevelt-progressives-doris-kerans-goodwin

      As for Jon (post above) many people are out doing traditional things for Memorial Day, from visiting cemeteries, observing or participating in parades, and preparing for picnics or cookouts, and generally visiting with family and friends.

      Many will listen later and maybe reflect on this blog then.

  • Paul_Caligiuri

    I don’t like war at all but there were no WMDs in Teddy R’s time, no nukes and no chem and bio weapons, to consider as far as mass death. To say TR’s war attitude would make Bush and Cheney blush I think is incorrect. Again, there have been a lot of US leaders who wanted things to happen, like the exploding Battleship Maine, to lead us to war. I think our brassards of peace can work better than war, like what if we would have built 500 schools and bazaars for trade in Afghanistan starting in 2003.

  • Peter GZ

    While I use to love TR, I have grown weary of him. Yes, a great personality, as his wife said – he was a “Force of Nature.” However, we have a representative democratic republic, we should not relay on someone from the “Bully Pulpit” to save us. We need to open the avenues to government and the economy to everyone – in the tradition of the republican form envisioned at the founding. Reduce the imprint of government in our lives, and move downward were appropriate to the state and local levels, and leave only larger issue to the national government, where they were intended. Roosevelt began the process of reversing that direction, substituting bluster for governance Taft and Coolidge understood that, TR loved the spotlight and the use of the force of personality.

    In the question of inequality – is it necessarily bad, all the time, and at all levels? What part of it is natural, inherent in society and the economy. If we truly want to reduce inequality, let’s open Harvard and Yale to everyone, based on random lottery. Let’s see who agrees with that. The best way to reduce inequality is to reduce the massive growth of the regulatory bureaucracy, not kill it, but make it reasonable, so that people can create businesses with relative ease, hire people, produce needed goods and services. And then, as Lincoln said, those worker can then gain the skills and tools so they too can start businesses. Such a cycle will grow opportunity and reduce inequality. If it takes too much up front resources (financial and legal capital) to start even basic business then entry level opportunity suffers, and inequality grows. That would be TR “Square Deal.” However, under the current administration, regulations grow, and opportunity is stifled. The working and middle class suffer in relation to the growth of regulatory government.

    Finally, here is why I love about NPR – never misses an opportunity to bash conservatives and the Tea Party. Aw yes, the welcome discussion of diversity of opinion and tolerance of competing ideas. For the host to engage in it, well he is an employee off NPR, one of the herd. But for a noted historian such as Doris Kearns Goodwin to engage in it, is troubling. I do give her credit, as she tried to walk a fine line between issues in the past and how they foreshadow issues today, but occasionally crossed the line. Let’s be honest, TR and other early 20th Century Progressives, would have an equally hard time with the line of reasoning coming out of the today’s Left Progressives, which have seized control of the Democrat Party. NPR loves to trash the Tea Party, but let’s pay attention to see the upcoming internal struggle for Democrat Party, with Progressive Left doing the same job of the Democrats supposedly the Tea Party did to the GOP. This will be fun to watch!

    • nj_v2

      The “Left Progressives” have seized control of the Democrat [sic] party.

      News to me. Wait, a pig just flew by my window!

    • Don_B1

      On the question of income and wealth inequality:

      1) Some inequality is always going to exist and should. The ability to “get ahead” with work is needed for improving life, and it is that human desire (in most) to improve one’s life, do things “easier” so as to reduce the effort of manual work that time could be freed up to do what we would like to do that has driven humans to create the civilization that we live in now.

      2) Inequality beyond some level tends to stop, not continue, this advance. Strong indications have been found in studies that job creation slows with increased inequality. The middle- and lower-income workers spend a lot more of their incomes than do the wealthy, and the super-wealthy even more so. Consider the Middle Ages, where the local squire ran the show for so long. Fortunately some of the wealthy did have an interest in how the natural world works and could look beyond the current order and develop the science and technology that led to the Industrial Age.

      3) It was the super wealthy of the top 1% and actually more so the top 0.1% that led the big investment banks to seek new ways (financial instruments) to provide a high rate of return to those with lots of money to invest. And that “demand” for high-return investments cannot currently be met by investments in job-producing business expansion as the 99% does not have the income to purchase more goods and services because of the high levels of debt a significant portion are under and the low wages that have not grown much in decades (which is why so many used their home’s equity as an ATM over the last decade or so).

      4) A lower inequality is not incompatible with job growth, as shown in the current northern countries of Europe:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/opinion/krugman-europes-secret-success.html?_r=0

      5) The wealthy participate more and more in “rent-seeking” behavior rather than wages as their income and wealth rise. A quick but fairly substantive discussion of the results of Piketty’s book can be found here:

      http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/johncassidy/2014/03/piketty-looks-at-inequality-in-six-charts.html

      Note that what President Theodore Roosevelt pointed out was that it is government’s role to set a level playing field, and when the real rich can spend almost unlimited amounts of money to get their ideas accepted when they unbalance that playing field, only government can reset the field.

      ——–

      As for regulation, what do you propose to ensure that the big investment banks do not create new (or reform old) financial instruments that destabilize the financial sector and create another Great Recession, which without the actions of government will yield another Great Depression? Are you really a died-in-the-wool libertarian, Ayn Randian, that believes that even financial fraud will be dealt with by the market without any legal system controls as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan claimed?

      As systems get more complex, regulations to control those systems necessarily gets more complex. Note that while the Republicans call for deregulation, implying that it is the regulations on small businesses that need to be removed, it is the regulations on BIG business that they will actually remove first.

      ———–

      If you think that to call out the lies of Republicans who call for one thing in their campaigns and when in power do the opposite or make claims about economics and the effects of burning fossil fuels, is to “bash conservatives and the Tea Party,” then you do need to learn about macroeconomics and atmospheric physics.

      ———-

      It seems clear that although you have “toned down” the rhetoric of the hard-right conservatives, it is apparent that you have at least a lot of sympathy for that ideology, and ideology it is. But just as the cigarette manufacturers centered their opposition to regulation on muddying the waters of science, and how clever they are at that, but the fossil fuel extractors have what they believe is multiple trillions of dollars in the ground and they want it even if getting it will end civilization.

      To point that out is really not bashing conservatives. It is more like calling out heroin dealers who want to make your children addicts.

      • Peter GZ

        Don B1,
        That is quite the reply. Thanks for your thoughts.

        In the end it may come down to ideology. How has inequality increased when supposedly the mechanisms to reduce that inequality have increased – the size and complexity of government.

        The more government intervenes, beyond insuring equality of access to various fields, institutions and processes, it interferes with the peoples’ ability to seek out solutions and to quickly adapt to those changes that arise.

        Government response is always a reflection of what happened and can never be in front of the issues. I agree that bank regulations are need to be complex as the institutional complexity increases, but such regulations should not be overly burdensome to allow the institution to adopt to changes in the system in which it operates. Money and time spent adhering to unnecessary regulations is money and time away from innovation and growth – including hiring more people and paying better salaries.

        Relaying on over-arching government oversight to “solve” this or that supposed problem calls for the concentration of power at the top and leads to what Hayek called the Pretense of Knowledge or the Fatal Conceit – concentrating power in a few and hindering the growth of the economy – with all of its trials and errors, but allows for multiple opportunities for the working and middle class to enter and leave different jobs as conditions warrant, and not be bound to those who conditions they do not agree with. This increases opportunities, and allows for competitive salaries.

        I am not a Ayn Randian. She was cold and heartless. As one of the numerous on-line political quizzes labeled me, one I’m comfortable with, I am a Moderate Conservative Populist. Force decision making a low as possible and let the people response and changes as the situation classes. The people always think faster and respond quicker than committees of academics and planner ever can. I believe Madison’s 10th Federalist is the best statement on politics and society. I favor the Wisdom of the Crowd, coupled larger institutions and tradition, beyond the scope of government. I draw from numerous sources – the Founding Documents, Hayek, Chesterton, Madison, Smith, and others. Sometimes they appear in conflict with each other, but from that conflict comes a rather solid base to work from.

        • Don_B1

          What “growth in government” do you see?

          As Paul Krugman has pointed out, the government is largely an army and an insurance company.

          The size of the army is not just the number of soldiers, sailors, and airmen. It is also the number of civilians inventing and developing the instruments that the Armed Forces men and women will use on the battlefield. Much of what is built for the Armed Forces is designed for the last war, like what the French did with the Maginot Line between the two WWs.

          The failure of the vaunted “free market” to provide healthcare coverage for all at a reasonable cost (and since other developed countries do achieve this at half the cost and with much better outcomes across their whole countries, it can be done). means that government has to set the rules, which is far from what the conservatives claim as “taking over the healthcare industry.” Note that the limited regulation of the industry before the PPACA was required to ensure the minimal care of the poorest which shows that less regulation is not the answer.

          The other arm of government insurance is Social Security, which has some of the least costs in providing the foundation for a livable but minimal life in old age. But there are conservatives who would do away with that also.

          • Peter GZ

            Don,

            As I said it come down to ideology. You think there has been no significant growth in government, according to Krugman. I find that statement hard to accept, just on the facts; the growth of the number of departments and the number of federal employees that have regulatory oversight over various parts of our economy. 5,000 employees in the Fed DOE – increased expenditure per student over the last few decades – paying for the bureaucracy – while we see a stagnation in test scores and overall student performance. No correlation? Doubtful.

            The more control, the less freedom. Freedom does not come from a government program. Creativity is hampered when society is hampered.

            Part of the issue is the nature of the mechanism you and I would differ on to accomplish the same task. For example, I see the need for greater access to health care for all, even the idea of the portability of health insurance for individuals, not having it strictly based on a specific job. I differ on the one size fits all model, and that this should be accomplished through a federal intrusion into the economy and through a model that means you can only accomplish through large scale bureaucratic controls. There are various other reforms that could take place in the health care system: open competition for insurance companies across state lines, tort reform, etc, that would increase affordability for everyone, and then have the government help those left, in need. So, we can accomplish the same goal, but allow greater flexibility in the system and reduce the imprint of government on our lives.

            Again – I’m not calling for the end of all regulations, but smarter regulations, at the state and local levels, not so much at the federal level. We currently have 75,000+ pages of federal regulations. What does that mean? That you and I have probably broken laws we have never heard of. When someone feels like checking you or I out, we could be criminals. Is that a free society?

            In the end, with all of its bumps and ups and downs, I would prefer an economic system with the flexibility to grow and change, to respond to crisis, and let the market have a reasonable amount of freedom. And a system with a small, limited, yet useful government. In the end we all have more freedom, and we too can grow and prosper. It is not always pretty, but the history of large scale government is usually not pretty at all.

        • red_donn

          I’d like to put forward a critique of the solid base, as I believe you may mean to offer it.

          Madison’s 10th Federalist states that differences in property are a result of differing mental faculties, and that these differences in property are the largest cause of factions. The 10th paper, implying that the primary role of the centralized government is to protect against mob rule by mediating these struggles, puts forward the belief that the central government’s first derivative function will be to protect the few wealthy from the many poor.

          In the notes from the Constitutional debates, he states this in plain terms, referring to the “opulent minority” as the primary special interest. He and Hamilton agreed that this would be accomplished by drawing on the “responsible men” to have power in the government disproportionate to their population, but determined by their wealth. After all, they argued that those with the most economic stake in a country would be most incentivized to guide it safely.

          All of this necessarily derives from the belief that the rich do indeed produce their wealth via superior “mental faculties.” No serious consideration is given to the idea of private exploitation of those without wealth, although that thought does naturally develop from Smith’s work, as expressed later by Ricardo and Marx. The theory of labor is accepted in the 10th paper by Madison, yet he still claims that the land-holding class, who argued against it, somehow are still deservedly compensated far above their workers.

          Furthermore, the assumptions of Hamilton and Madison, which can be seen in arguments of more modern commentators like Milton Friedman, consistently assume some “national interest.” This is typically conflated with measurements and decisions that suit the interests of Madison’s “opulent minority,” such as the use of national GDP and the stock market as our economic touchstones.

          The assumption that private interests are non-exploitative, and that somehow whatever benefits them will eventually benefit all are core in our government. ***However, almost all arguments I see for reducing the government end up targeting the few institutions that serve the general populace.***

          That final line, by my reckoning, is the key point to be discussed between critical minds. Private power structured the government to serve and protect wealth, as Madison and Hamilton essentially laid out. Outside of a brief progressive period, where organized labor held some sway in the public discourse and a certain degree of socialism was required in order to save capitalism, the tendency has squarely kept within those bounds. Hence, I believe that any reduction in state power must be accompanied by a reduction in private capital power, else it will maintain or rebuild just those parts it likes best.
          In my experience, the majority of people who have learned to distrust the government do so through a neoclassical free-market mindset which is rife with assumptions that hold up a quasi-religious ideology, rather than the real world. I love a good lecture by Sowell or Friedman, but at the end of the day they seem to trust that rational exploitation of society cannot occur via private power, a most ahistorical notion.
          Rent-seeking capital, information assymetries, negative externalities, and propaganda/PR/advertising feeding irrational behavior are all points in dire need of addressing in order to curtail private power. Some of these points must be addressed by an aggregated portion of the public’s socio-economic power, namely the government.

  • ce373

    The Extreme Victimization of the American People by the Abhorrent Functioning of the United States Political System and Process!

    The American People are being Extremely Victimized by the American Political Process! Americans always end up with the same results; their candidates get elected but go too far with their agendas and ideologies and so get voted out and then the same thing happens with those candidates that take their place! With all the time and money that is being spent, the American people are not getting their money’s worth!

    One side gets a majority and then go too far with their agendas and ideologies and then the other side gets the majority and starts to undo what the other side has done and then they go too far and our government just stays out of balance. Just think, if these Fellow Americans would just work together seeking communication, collaboration, possible consensus to make things better for everyone and teaching others to do the same, then maybe, they would have much more time to face the issues that Americans have to deal with everyday and help fix them. But no, they spend so much time campaigning, politicizing so many things, making so many things political footballs that the truth about the issues become smoke and mirrors and objectivity flies out the window.

    The Hypothesis must be true that future potential leaders are taught in the Ivy league schools that every controversy is good because it can create another fund raiser.

    The Media creates controversies if they can’t find them because controversies during campaign time makes Christmas time for the Media because their is so much money to be made!

    In the 2012 Presidential Election, there were more than one million ads at a cost of more than Nine Hundred Million Dollars and most people just changed the channel and threw the mailers into the waste paper baskets!

    In the overall 2012 Presidential Election, there was more than Six Billion Dollars Spent for a $400,000.00 a year Presidential job and the other American elections … that’s about $46.00 per vote … and we want these people to be trusted with our money!!! How much will be raised and spent 8 years from now … fifty billion dollars???

    Americans have been so conditioned from a very young age to join sides during team play and to try to win while the other side looses and this conditioning increases as they do this over and over again while growing up.

    In the United States, Elections have become like football games with a “win no matter what” mentality and in the process we all loose!!! The elections are filled with pre-analysis, polling, exit polling, post analysis, etc., and the people are kept divided on one side or the other because they are so proselytized into believing that they are making a difference and if their side doesn’t win, it will be a terrible four years! After all is said and done, the political parties and politicians head to the banks with millions of dollars from the electors!

    Working together as Fellow Americans does not mean compromising one’s values, morals, ethics … etc.!

    Americans do not get the best decisions on the issues because it is all about power, money and votes and some politicians function as if they are in an occult and they need to be deprogrammed!

    It just seems to be Government of the Republicans, by the Democrats, and for the Government that is coerced by the dividing media, special interests, 24/7 talking heads, think tanks, political pundits … etc.!

    Finally, the biggest problem is that the results end up being the same … The American People staying Divided when they could be working together for the Good Of ALL!!!

    There are entities within and outside our borders that want to impose their agendas and ideologies on America and in the process take away our Freedoms, Sovereignty, The United States Constitution with its Bill of Rights, The Emancipation Proclamation, The Declaration of Independence, Freedom of the Press … etc.!!!

    We must stop this madness even if it takes not participating … we should look for and elect candidates that are willing to work together as Fellow Americans, seeking common ground with all the other elected Politicians … otherwise, this madness will just get even worse!!!

    BTW, after the elections, this same way of functioning or might we say dysfunction, continues in the way Congress does it’s daily business so that each side can blame the other … keeping us divided and trying to get even more money out of us … are we really this desperate to be part of something that is just plainly ripping us off???

    • margbi

      I, too, abhor all the money rolling into campaigns – even state ones begin at a million dollars. But I also wonder what this all says about us. We may ignore (or think we ignore) the TV ads and not read the mailers but we’re probably absorbing the names and maybe that’s what they want us to do. Does it follow that if there is enough money spent on your campaign, everyone will vote for you because your name looks familiar on the ballot?

      • ce373

        Absolutely, in a beautiful, discerning way margbi, you just described part of the problem. We don’t even know how true anything is that they are saying; we are just being used and manipulated!

    • Don_B1

      But what your long discourse leaves as its bottom line:

      The people get what they vote for and thus deserve.

      It means that the voters, a large majority of them, must find a way to pay more attention, learn a bit more about the issues and be willing to abandon their ideologies when what they learn shows that their particular ideology is unfounded in any empirical way.

      One such ideology is the ideal of “small government.” In the abstract it sounds desirable but what it really does is cripple the ability of those with lower incomes to grow their lives as the rich can dominate the political process without the part of the government that levels the playing field, from ensuring a living wage over a race to the bottom raw capitalism “accept what I am offering” job market, to providing high-quality schools and non-hungry students, etc., so that everyone gets an understanding of the issues in play and how the politicians are trying to play them against each other so that the wealthy get most of their wishes to the disadvantage of all others.

      A necessary but not sufficient step is campaign finance reform, and one of the few games in town on that issue is the attempt by Lawrence Lessig of Harvard, who is working on ways to get the needed reforms through the Constitutional Convention route to a Constitutional Amendment.

      • ce373

        Don_B1

        Everything you say is quite true; the only problem is that I am not sure the voters know how much they are being manipulated, divided, proselytized; made to think they are making a difference … filled with so much tunnel vision from one side or the other that is so reinforced by so many supposed legitimate entities, that they just become part of the problems that are keeping this country so dysfunctional and unnecessarily divided!

  • Michael Difani

    TR was finally awarded the Medal of Honor, accepted by a great-grandson in 2000 by Pres. Clinton. It was for his actions in Cuba in 1898 as a Rough Rider. It was eerie hearing his strident voice! He would not be a Republican today. The Roosevelts sure have a glorious history…two presidents, a Nobel Peace Prize, a Medal of Honor and other awards. He was instrumental in helping to save the endangered American bison, which was down to maybe 100 head by 1900 or so.

  • 228929292AABBB

    Not sure why Doris Kearns Goodwin waltzed through the same crimes as Jason Blair and others without paying the price. Why do we still listen to this person?

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