Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ken Burns' "The Roosevelts"

I've been watching Ken Burns' The Roosevelts (read about it HERE), and I have mixed feelings so far, after the first two episodes, which are mainly about Teddy Roosevelt. Ken Burns certainly knows how to make an entertaining documentary, but with all such entertainers, you have to take him with a grain of salt, because, frankly, he's a knee-jerk liberal. One of his films, The Central Park Five, is an obnoxious whitewash of the reputations of a bunch of thugs. Nicholas Stix describes that HERE.

So while you can learn a lot from this current film, do take it with a grain of salt. Interestingly, liberals keep evoking TR as some kind of liberal icon these days, what with his trust-busting and environmentalism, but they leave out other, inconvenient stuff about him. He's a mixed bag. But back to the film.

Much is made about his inviting Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, and about negative reactions to this, particularly from the South. And it's followed by pointing out that he never invited him back. In my opinion, it was a bit of a blunder on his part to do it at all, but only a bit, and he did it partly because he thought it a decent thing to do, and partly to shore up Black support for the Republicans — in those days, Blacks were Republican voting puppets, just as they're Democrat voting puppets today.

And then there's the Brownsville rioting (read about it HERE, again with a grain of salt), when TR dishonorably discharged 167 Black soldiers who had either rioted themselves in Brownsville, or refused to reveal just who had rioted. Burns makes this out to be a terrible thing that Roosevelt did, I think it's just another instance of his doing what he thought to be decent and proper.

I'm no scholar of the period, but I think TR had his good points and his bad points. As a person, he was undeniably admirable. He was, as one historian mentions in the film, probably the one President best described as a renaissance man. He got us the Panama Canal, and I've always thought that his methods in doing so, considering who he was dealing with, were quite reasonable and proper, especially for the times. Despite being described as a "war lover" in the film, his administration was one of the most peaceful. True, after he left office, he agitated for our entry into WW I, which was a very bad idea, and someday I want to look into that to find out what his reasoning was.

He famously came out against dual citizenship, which everybody thinks is just peachy now, to our sorrow, and wanted all immigrants to become Americans, and didn't want them allowed in if they didn't intend to. That would make him a Nazi by today's come one, come all standards.

Maybe the worst thing he ever did was inspire, by example, his dilettante cousin Franklin to get into politics. We're still reeling from that.

But we've certainly had worse Presidents. Watch Burns' film, but, again, take it with a grain of salt. I expect the idolatry of FDR will come up in the following episodes.

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