Don't blame Teddy Roosevelt for nationalized health care

William R. Hawkins
President Barack Obama's attempt to blame Teddy Roosevelt for the massive Federal health care program adopted last week, over a century after TR left office, does not hold water. The allegation is an attempt by a Democratic President to find a Republican precedent of ancient standing to justify his actions. But the attempt hinges on Roosevelt's campaign in 1912 as the third-party Progressive candidate running against both the GOP and the Democrats. Yet, even as a "progressive", TR was far removed from advocating the kind of government takeover of the health care industry that Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress have orchestrated.The Progressive Party Platform devotes only one sentence to what could be construed as health insurance, stating "The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use." This sentence lumps together different kinds of insurance, health, unemployment and retirement. The tone implies that insurance against sickness and irregular employment are "safety net" concepts, temporary and not comprehensive. The devil is always in the detail, and no details are given in the platform, but nothing on the scale of ObamaCare was remotely conceivable in 1912.

Teddy Roosevelt spoke on the plank at the Progressive National Convention on August 6, 1912 in Chicago. He envisioned private insurance tied mainly to the workplace, not a Federal program. His statement was modest and tentative,

The hazards of sickness, accident, invalidism, involuntary unemployment, and old age should be provided for through insurance. This should be made a charge in whole or in part upon the industries, the employer, the employee, and perhaps the people at large to contribute severally in some degree.

In regard to "old age pensions" TR said the program recently instituted in Germany by Otto von Bismarck (certainly no left-winger) should be "studied" and "adapted to our uses" but, again, there was no commitment to a particular course of action. It is clear that the concept Roosevelt had in mind was that of actual insurance, not the kind of state socialism towards which ObamaCare is headed. Indeed, TR wanted to address problems in ways that would stem the spread of socialism which he saw as a threat to American values. As he wrote in 1909, "Socialism would replace the family and home life by a glorified state free lunch counter." TR's musings on insurance is the concept that President Obama has declared a failure, necessitating a radical "reform" of the entire health care sector.

On a wider note, some conservatives have also unjustly tried to draw a straight line from those who called themselves "progressives" a century ago to those who claim that title today. If only that were true, the threat from the Left would be far less dangerous. For example, the 1912 Progressive Platform contained the following statement which could be taken from a speech by Sarah Palin,

The coal and other natural resources of Alaska should be opened to development at once.... while held in Government ownership shall be opened to use promptly upon liberal terms requiring immediate development.

Thus the benefit of cheap fuel will accrue to the Government of the United States and to the people of Alaska and the Pacific Coast...

The sloppy use of history without regard for the circumstances and motivations of the people being cited does not promote the credibility of arguments offered from any point on the political spectrum.

 


President Barack Obama's attempt to blame Teddy Roosevelt for the massive Federal health care program adopted last week, over a century after TR left office, does not hold water. The allegation is an attempt by a Democratic President to find a Republican precedent of ancient standing to justify his actions. But the attempt hinges on Roosevelt's campaign in 1912 as the third-party Progressive candidate running against both the GOP and the Democrats. Yet, even as a "progressive", TR was far removed from advocating the kind of government takeover of the health care industry that Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress have orchestrated.

The Progressive Party Platform devotes only one sentence to what could be construed as health insurance, stating "The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use." This sentence lumps together different kinds of insurance, health, unemployment and retirement. The tone implies that insurance against sickness and irregular employment are "safety net" concepts, temporary and not comprehensive. The devil is always in the detail, and no details are given in the platform, but nothing on the scale of ObamaCare was remotely conceivable in 1912.

Teddy Roosevelt spoke on the plank at the Progressive National Convention on August 6, 1912 in Chicago. He envisioned private insurance tied mainly to the workplace, not a Federal program. His statement was modest and tentative,

The hazards of sickness, accident, invalidism, involuntary unemployment, and old age should be provided for through insurance. This should be made a charge in whole or in part upon the industries, the employer, the employee, and perhaps the people at large to contribute severally in some degree.

In regard to "old age pensions" TR said the program recently instituted in Germany by Otto von Bismarck (certainly no left-winger) should be "studied" and "adapted to our uses" but, again, there was no commitment to a particular course of action. It is clear that the concept Roosevelt had in mind was that of actual insurance, not the kind of state socialism towards which ObamaCare is headed. Indeed, TR wanted to address problems in ways that would stem the spread of socialism which he saw as a threat to American values. As he wrote in 1909, "Socialism would replace the family and home life by a glorified state free lunch counter." TR's musings on insurance is the concept that President Obama has declared a failure, necessitating a radical "reform" of the entire health care sector.

On a wider note, some conservatives have also unjustly tried to draw a straight line from those who called themselves "progressives" a century ago to those who claim that title today. If only that were true, the threat from the Left would be far less dangerous. For example, the 1912 Progressive Platform contained the following statement which could be taken from a speech by Sarah Palin,

The coal and other natural resources of Alaska should be opened to development at once.... while held in Government ownership shall be opened to use promptly upon liberal terms requiring immediate development.

Thus the benefit of cheap fuel will accrue to the Government of the United States and to the people of Alaska and the Pacific Coast...

The sloppy use of history without regard for the circumstances and motivations of the people being cited does not promote the credibility of arguments offered from any point on the political spectrum.