Was Theodore Roosevelt a socialist?

John Nichols at The Nation writes of how Fox News dealt with Obama echoing Theodore Roosevelt in a speech. In brief, some Fox pundits asserted that Roosevelt was a socialist. Nichols writes in rebuttal:

“Roosevelt, in his ‘New Nationalism’ speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, did outline an agenda that supported the establishment of programs like Social Security and Medicare, protections against discrimination, union rights and expanded democracy. In effect, he was arguing for what, under his fifth cousin, Franklin, would come to be known as “the New Deal.”

Some of those proposals were promoted by the Socialist Party in the early years of the twentieth century, which certainly made arguments in its platforms for safety-net programs. But so, too, did moderate Republicans and Democrats. After the ‘Gilded Age’ of robber barons and corporate monopolies, there was mainstream support for tempering the excesses of laissez faire capitalism.”

The people who have been called “socialists” have many different ideas, and the major commonality I can see is a belief that something ought to be done to alleviate poverty. If this is the definition, then Roosevelt was a socialist. If, on the other hand, socialism means wanting the workers to seize the factors of production then Roosevelt was not a socialist. And if socialism is believing that the government should reallocate resources–as many Conservatives seem to think it is these days–then Roosevelt, along with virtually every other person in history who ever ran a country, was definitely a socialist.

Still, it is significant that Roosevelt’s policies were similar to those of socialists at the time. Maybe he was merely a pragmatist, and found that the easiest way to thwart radical socialism was to allow for moderate socialism. Does that make him a socialist? I don’t know; I think it makes him a practical politician.

To my mind, T.R. was something of a market socialist, though I think before anything else he just wanted a powerful United States, and was just willing to do what it took to make that happen. I don’t think he was really invested in socialism. But I will admit that, on the face of it, the “New Nationalism” agenda seems like it have made the country closer to being Socialist than it had been previously.

You may decide for yourself if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 

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