‘Theodore Roosevelt’ — A leader forged by adversity

History special profiles 26th president

“Theodore Roosevelt”

To historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Teddy Roosevelt was a leader America needed at the turn of the 20th century and someone whose wisdom the country could use these days. His story is laid out in a two-night special upcoming on History.

In “Theodore Roosevelt,” airing Monday and Tuesday, May 30 and 31, Kearns Goodwin’s book “Leadership in Turbulent Times” provides the basis for a portrait of the first modern U.S. president — a passionate conservationist, champion of social justice and scourge of the corrupt whose “Square Deal” domestic program aimed to raise up the middle class while rooting out bad trusts and government by the wealthy.

His story, Kearns Goodwin says, has many parallels to today’s social and political climate.

“I can just imagine him fitting into our problems in America right now,” Kearns Goodwin says. “What happened at the turn at the 20th century when he became president was that you had the Industrial Revolution shaking up the economy much like the tech revolution and globalization has done. So it was the first time you had a big gap between the rich and the poor and you had this situation where people in the country are suspicious of people in the city. And there’s all these new inventions that make people nostalgic for another way of life.

“And there’s a real sense of democracy being on trial,” she continues. “I mean, Teddy warned that the rock of democracy would founder if there were moments where people in different regions or parties or sections began to think of each other as ‘the other’ rather than as common American citizens. So that’s the problem today, right?”

But the man known simply as “TR” was no snowflake. A war hero, he once delivered an 84-minute address while bleeding from the chest following a failed assassination attempt. And he knew adversity in his personal life, having overcome numerous health problems as a child and suffered the deaths of his mother and his first wife on the same day.

At his core, though, Kearns Goodwin argues that Roosevelt had a sense of fundamental fairness that drove his agendas, even if it meant taking unpopular positions, which he did throughout his political career.

“I think it allowed him to take greater risks when he became president,” she says, “just because that became his way of dealing with life.”

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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