#26: Theodore Roosevelt: The 47%

The contrast between the way politicians spoke 100 years ago compared with now is amazing.  There is of course the difference in tone and tenor, in the turn of the century, the art of speaking still mattered and political speeches were expected to be aspirational rather than populist.  Even blue collar people generally did not vote purely on "who they'd want to have a beer with".

The other striking difference of course was how honest people were in their views.  During this time, messages were less managed and in the absence of the 24 hour news cycle and the entire industry we have now of pollsters, strategists and media consultants, politicians were more likely to write their own speeches and less likely to mute their real beliefs to be more electable.  That's not to say they were less corrupt than they are now or better human beings or anything, you were just a little more likely to get the unfiltered version of their thoughts than you are now.

It took an unauthorized recording of Mitt Romney to confirm what he really thinks.  His view of America is one of makers and one of takers.  He believes that half of the country is unproductive and lives off the productive other half that pays income tax and does not rely on government programs such as social security, welfare, etc.  This "scandal" of the world hearing his real philosophy that he explained to his contributors is a legitimate debate the country should be having regarding what government should and should not do and the effect of entitlements.  Instead of arguing if his vision makes sense or is good for the country, the media focuses only on the horse race of the election on how it will appeal to minorities or how many percentage points his polling will go down.

In Theodore Roosevelt's day, he was much less afraid to lay out a bold, controversial vision for the country than today's politicians are.  His view of the 47% was very different from Mitt Romney's, although he had many political opponents that said openly the types of things Mitt says in private regarding the lower classes.  It's just amazing that Theodore Roosevelt spoke so forcefully on the need for government in people's lives when you factor in that he lost the support of his own party, it was a time when social darwinism was widely accepted by the upper classes and there was great concern for civil unrest that was being caused by anarchist and communist terrorists at the time.  In addition, social programs or the view that government should take care of people was still a very new and not universally held view. 

All these factors made it in-expedient for Theodore to give this speech, but he gave it anyway.  Listen not only to the message, but also the way he spoke to the American people as adults and not simpletons reading The USA Today they find outside the door of their hotel room:

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