TR argued that it was undemocratic to exploit the nation’s resources for present profit. "The greatest good for the greatest number," he wrote, "applies to the number within the womb of time."
But TR also played fast and loose with the prerogatives of his high office, leading Woodrow Wilson to characterize TR as “the most dangerous man of the age.” Mark Twain described him as “clearly insane.” During his reign, the US became an imperial power. One upside was the Panama Canal and the brokering of a peace accord between warring Japan and Russia. The downside was the merciless crushing of a rebellion in the Philippines that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands Filipinos.
Had he chosen to run another term, no doubt TR would have found a good reason to get the US involved in yet another foreign misadventure. But right now, I am looking out my window at a beautiful oak. Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, I know what a tree looks like.
In her 1976 “Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream," Doris Kearns Goodwin writes of LBJ’s last days in office:
In the past, Johnson had displayed a fine sense of discrimination about his political opponents, recognizing his enemies today might be his allies tomorrow. Now he became unrestrained and reckless, creating a fantasy world of heroes and villains. Members of the White House staff who had listened to the violent name-calling were frightened by what seemed to them signs of paranoia.
Yet, just a couple of years earlier, in 1966, he was the most successful man in the world, on the cusp of leaving a legacy as one of the greatest Presidents in history. Instead, by 1968, he found himself unable to preside over a deeply divided nation, embroiled in an unwinnable war, his legacy in ruins. He left office the next year a broken man, never to return to public life. He died four years later.
Dr Goodwin paints a picture of a highly-energetic and driven man who enjoyed an unbroken string of political successes over a three-decade span. But she also mentions that behind the mask of success was a man with many insecurities, sometimes barely able to hold it together.
Upon assuming the Presidency in 1963 following the assassination of JFK, LBJ seized the moment, leading the nation through its mourning, then embarking on his “Great Society” domestic agenda that would change the face of America - from civil rights to education to the environment.
In 1965, LBJ decided to massively increase troop levels in Vietnam. The decision was a rational one, made in consultation with his advisers. But by 1966, it was clear his position was untenable. Unfortunately, faced with no easy way out of the mess he found himself in, LBJ turned increasingly irrational. He retreated into his shell, taking advice from only a small cadre of trusted and sycophantic advisers, and justifying his disastrous decision-making. Dr Goodwin uses the terms "obsessional" and "delusional" to describe his thinking.