THE REFORMATION OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT
Before finishing this account of Mr. Roosevelt’s services as a reformer, and his place in the reforming movement, a serious objection on the score of consistency must be fairly faced. Even admitting that Mr. Roosevelt has dignified reform by identifying it with a programme of constructive national legislation, does the fundamental purpose of his reforming legislation differ essentially from that of Mr. Bryan or Mr. Hearst? How can he be called the founder of a new national democracy when the purpose of democracy from his point of view remains substantially the Jeffersonian ideal of equal rights for all and special privileges for none? If, in one respect, he has been emancipating American democracy from the Jeffersonian bondage, he has in another respect been tightening the bonds, because he has continued to identify democracy with the legal constitution of a system of insurgent, ambiguous, and indiscriminate individual rights.
The validity of such a criticism from the point of view of this book cannot be disputed. The figure of the “Square Deal,” which Mr. Roosevelt has flourished so vigorously in public addresses, is a translation into the American vernacular of the Jeffersonian principle of equal rights; and in Mr. Roosevelt’s dissertations upon the American ideal he has expressly disclaimed the notion of any more positive definition of the purpose of American democracy. Moreover, his favorite figure gives a sinister application to his assertions that the principle of equal rights is being violated. If the American people are not getting a “Square Deal,” it must mean that they are having the cards stacked against them; and in that case the questions of paramount importance are: Who are stacking the cards? And how can they be punished? These are precisely the questions which Hearst is always asking and Hearstism is seeking to answer. Neither has Mr. Roosevelt himself entirely escaped the misleading effects of his own figure. He has too frequently talked as if his opponents deserved to be treated as dishonest sharpers; and he has sometimes behaved as if his suspicions of unfair play on their part were injuring the coolness of his judgment. But at bottom and in the long run Mr. Roosevelt is too fair-minded a man and too patriotic a citizen to become much the victim of his dangerous figure of the “Square Deal.” He inculcates for the most part in his political sermons a spirit, not of suspicion and hatred, but of mutual forbearance and confidence; and his programme of reform attaches more importance to a revision of the rules of the game than to the treatment of the winners under the old rules as one would treat a dishonest gambler.