Ronald Pestrito, a professor at Hillsdale College, has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal making the umpteenth argument for why “Theodore Roosevelt Was No Conservative.” His case rests almost entirely on Roosevelt’s 1910 New Nationalism speech in which he laid out the benefits of a modest welfare state. As it happens, in the fall issue of World Affairs Journal, I made the case for why TR was very much a conservative.
One of the major points I tried to make was that, while at times his rhetoric was incendiary (and the New Nationalism speech is evidence of that), Roosevelt’s actions when in office were actually pretty restrained. And even his post-presidential proposals for the growth of government were pretty limited by comparison with what we have today. In many ways, TR anticipated his cousin’s New Deal. Given that all but the most extreme libertarians have come to terms with the New Deal and considerable post-New Deal expansion of government (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid), it hardly makes sense to denounce TR as some kind of lefty for anticipating the kind of reforms that would make our capitalist system more stable and durable.
Pestrito doesn’t mention at all Roosevelt’s record in foreign and military affairs but this is one of the main areas where he was undeniably a conservative and his record should provide inspiration for today’s generation of conservatives.
My piece in World Affairs Journal provides a much fuller argument along those lines. You might even say it provides a “pre-buttal” of Pestrito’s article.