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Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Presidents of the 20th Century - Great Expectations

Teddy Roosevelt 1901-1909
Harry S Truman 1945-1953
Ronald Reagan 1981-1989

Soft Talkers With Big Sticks

Teddy Roosevelt has a biography that would challenge three men combined to duplicate! "Talk (or, Speak, depending on the source) softly and carry a big stick" was the theme of the Roosevelt presidency.

"They don't hold White House lunches the way they used to at the beginning of the century. On Jan. 1, 1907, for example, the guest list was as follows: a Nobel prizewinner, a physical culturalist, a naval historian, a biographer, an essayist, a paleontologist, a taxidermist, an ornithologist, a field naturalist, a conservationist, a big-game hunter, an editor, a critic, a ranchman, an orator, a country squire, a civil service reformer, a socialite, a patron of the arts, a colonel of the cavalry, a former Governor of New York, the ranking expert on big-game mammals in North America and the President of the U.S.

All these men were named Theodore Roosevelt."

That Teddy was accomplished is one thing. He was a leader of men. He was especially suited to be a world leader as well. Long after he left office foreign political cartoons would still picture America as a caricature of Roosevelt. The 26th President of the United States firmly established his country as a dominant world power that would be glad to discuss matters but would not be afraid to do whatever it takes to protect itself or it's interests. He basically declared that the Western Hemisphere was the purview of the United States. He brought about the building of the Panama Canal. He caused the USA to look towards Asia and consider the East as a focus of trade as well as a concern for security. He brokered the peace between Russia and Japan in 1905.

America was thrust into greatness by TR and he wanted that to be a compassionate greatness that preserved wildlife and cared about the downtrodden. A Republican, he was far more statesman than politician and after leaving office, would run again in 1912, having left the Republicans, and would spearhead the Bullmoose Party. His third party efforts failed to win the day. But Teddy had sought to lead and serve and considered that of more importance than the label of a party affiliation. His personal integrity and his strength helped show both America and the world that the USA was BIG in more ways than one.


Harry S Truman, like Teddy before him, came into office as a Vice President filling in for a fallen chief executive. Unlike TR, Truman fell into an immediate crisis situation: The imminent invasion of Japan, which would not capitulate, at the end of World War II. Estimates of over a million allied casualties and easily twice than many for the Japanese were presented for the invasion and submission of the Japanese main island. Or, there was a new weapon that had been brought into discussion, a weapon so powerful that its very use was horrible to contemplate. Truman had to process all available information and decide what to do. He made the exceedingly difficult decision to drop the atomic bomb on two cities crucial to Japan's wartime production; Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The resulting casualties were a fraction of the probable numbers that an invasion would have generated, and the Japanese almost immediately surrendered after the bombs were dropped.

Truman was the first President who was faced with fighting the "Cold War" even as his Truman Doctrine (including the "Marshall Plan") helped in the rebuilding of Europe.

"Dangers and crises marked the foreign scene as Truman campaigned successfully in 1948. In foreign affairs he was already providing his most effective leadership.

In 1947 as the Soviet Union pressured Turkey and, through guerrillas, threatened to take over Greece, he asked Congress to aid the two countries, enunciating the program that bears his name--the Truman Doctrine. The Marshall Plan, named for his Secretary of State, stimulated spectacular economic recovery in war-torn western Europe.

When the Russians blockaded the western sectors of Berlin in 1948, Truman created a massive airlift to supply Berliners until the Russians backed down. Meanwhile, he was negotiating a military alliance to protect Western nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, established in 1949.

In June 1950, when the Communist government of North Korea attacked South Korea, Truman conferred promptly with his military advisers. There was, he wrote, "complete, almost unspoken acceptance on the part of everyone that whatever had to be done to meet this aggression had to be done. There was no suggestion from anyone that either the United Nations or the United States could back away from it."

A long, discouraging struggle ensued as U.N. forces held a line above the old boundary of South Korea. Truman kept the war a limited one, rather than risk a major conflict with China and perhaps Russia."

"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"
"The buck stops here."

Truman's Fair Deal was a continuation and a tune-up of the policies of his predecessor. He oversaw the start of the United Nations. Certainly his years were years of change and challenge. "Give 'em Hell Harry" was equal to the task.

Truman, a Democrat, declined to run for President in 1952, not being impressed by the glamor of the job of World's Most Powerful Man and preferring retirement back home in Missouri. His firm leadership in times of great turmoil is reminiscent of the TR Presidency. He was the right man at the right time for his country and the world.


The last of the three Big Stick Presidents is Ronald Reagan.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
"I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life."
"My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes!"

That a movie actor would become President is unlikely. That the star of "Bedtime for Bonzo" would become the leader of the free world was nevertheless crucial to the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the end to the Cold War that Truman had faced at the beginning and had befuddled Presidents like Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Reagan's wry sense of humor, married to an indomitable will, was the perfect remedy to a world weary of the constant spectre of nuclear confrontation. He joked about his tendency to nap, his Hollywood past, even about being shot in a failed assasination attempt at the beginning of his first term of office.

"Dealing skillfully with Congress, Reagan obtained legislation to stimulate economic growth, curb inflation, increase employment, and strengthen national defense. He embarked upon a course of cutting taxes and Government expenditures, refusing to deviate from it when the strengthening of defense forces led to a large deficit.

A renewal of national self-confidence by 1984 helped Reagan and Bush win a second term with an unprecedented number of electoral votes. Their victory turned away Democratic challengers Walter F. Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro.

In 1986 Reagan obtained an overhaul of the income tax code, which eliminated many deductions and exempted millions of people with low incomes. At the end of his administration, the Nation was enjoying its longest recorded period of peacetime prosperity without recession or depression.

In foreign policy, Reagan sought to achieve "peace through strength." During his two terms he increased defense spending 35 percent, but sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union. In dramatic meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he negotiated a treaty that would eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Reagan declared war against international terrorism, sending American bombers against Libya after evidence came out that Libya was involved in an attack on American soldiers in a West Berlin nightclub.

By ordering naval escorts in the Persian Gulf, he maintained the free flow of oil during the Iran-Iraq war. In keeping with the Reagan Doctrine, he gave support to anti-Communist insurgencies in Central America, Asia, and Africa."

By dealing from a position of strength with totalitarian governments and establishing a policy of punishment rather than appeasement in dealing with terrorists, Reagan took up the Big Stick of Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman before him. In promoting changes to the tax system and cutting taxes to lower income people and businesses, his administration helped bring about an era of growing prosperity to the United States. Perhaps his greatest legacy was symbolized by the collapes of Communist regimes throughout Europe, culminating symbolically by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall beginning on November 9th, 1989.


Three men from very different backgrounds and areas of the country. I considered their Presidencies to be similar in enough ways to include all three in one post. Two are Republicans and one, a Democrat. All deserve the title of "great" and if we are passing out grades, the grade of "A".

I close with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

“In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Bully, Mr. President, bully!

1 comment:

Hawkeye® said...

Hey Radar, not much to argue with there. They WERE great presidents.

Best regards...