The Rooseveltian presidency

by zunguzungu

This was going to be a footnote in the dissertation and then it ballooned way out of control and is probably now too long to include. Ah, well. Here you go:

To speak only of the recent presidential campaigns, Bill Clinton and John McCain specifically named Roosevelt as a particular inspiration, while Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin, and George W. Bush have all been figures absolutely drenched in Rooseveltian mythology; the ritual deployment of “the ranch” as a site for presidential performance (which Reagan pioneered and George W. Bush perfected) or the spectacle of Sarah Palin shooting wolves from a helicopter in Alaska are unmistakable throwbacks to Roosevelt, after almost a century of presidents whose public images have decidedly tended to be more urbane and urban. The centrality of this kind of rough frontier work to contemporary presidential personae, in other words, both stands in sharp contrast to the patrician figures of the mid and absolutely dominates the meaning of the presidency as it’s been established over more than the last two decades. Even if someone like Barack Obama is more generally seen as an inheritor of Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin’s legacy — to the extent that he is allowed to have any resemblance at all to a white president — the fact that FDR himself idolized his cousin means the influence is only once removed. And in any case, the most potent cultural conservative attack on Obama — as an elite, out of touch with real Americans — is the sort of failing that only makes sense if you begin with the presumption that a president should, like Theodore Roosevelt, be essentially a common person. The first president Bush faced this sort of critique as well, but though he was dogged by the accusation of being a “wimp” and a Connecticut patrician (and was defeated by a president with a distinctly common touch), Sidney Blumenthal reported that, on moving in, he re-decorated the White House to re-emphasize Teddy Roosevelt (replacing a portrait of Coolidge, for example, with the Rough Rider, and placing two sculptures of him in the Oval Office itself).