(Editor's note: This is the final segment in our four part series under title of A Blueprint for America's Future. The prior segment (part three) highlights the psychic interlude which interrupts the weeks leading up to the 1912 general election. ...)
T.R. delivers a final speech in New York City in the days before the general election.
Occasionally he attempts to raise his right arm, then winces and drops it. The pain is intense from the wound as a result of the recent assassination attempt. Nevertheless, T.R. rises to a memorable occasion:
Friends, perhaps once in a generation, perhaps not so often, there comes a chance for a people of a country to play their part wisely and fearlessly in some great battle of the age-long warfare for human rights. The doctrines we preach reach back to the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount. They reached back to the commandments delivered at Sinai. All that we are doing is to apply those doctrines in the shape necessary to make them available for meeting the living issue of our own day.
The end result might have been a nation of individuals, cooperating intelligently instead of competing recklessly, with the requisite character to understand duty --- a democratic society that could reach new heights in both moral and material progress. But it is not meant to be.
In the ensuing national general election, T.R., now the political third party outsider on the Republican left, actually outpolls the incumbent president (Mr. Taft) on the Republican right. But it is to be little consolation. The Republican Party vote is thereby split. The election is thrown to the candidate who commands the center, former president of Princeton University and Gov. of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. [i] Progressivism is to take on the newly developing image of the Democratic Party.
Twenty years, one World War and a Great Depression later --- the roots of the New Deal experiment may be traced here --- to T.R. in 1912. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda of 1932 adopts much of the 1912 Progressive Party platform in what will be the lynchpin of his four term presidency. The New Deal conceives the social safety net, a constitutional delegation of power to the general welfare. Hereafter, people come to expect the help of their government, especially in time of need. Passage of its landmark twin pillars, the Social Security Act and National Labor Relations Act, furnishes the pathway for entry into middle class life for millions of American citizens, mainly immigrants.
In 1960, President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier follows. The torch is passed to a new generation of Americans. Mr. Kennedy’s vision drives the important legislation of the day, including the historic Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1964, the Immigration Act of 1965, Medicare/Medicaid and the onset of the Great Society steered by Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. With the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, National Public Radio (NPR) is born, millions of listeners having come to rely upon NPR over the past 50 years.
President Reagan, an ardent New Deal proponent in his younger days, moves with good intentions to scale back the size and scope of the federal government. Once again, individual initiative has its day, unbridled by the constraints of government. But history teaches that individual initiative works best only within the framework of a collective social responsibility. One for all, and all for one, as the saying goes.
Presidents Clinton and Obama are direct lineal descendants of these historical figures in American History. The enactment of President Obama’s signature 2010 Affordable Care Act, together with meaningful progress in the environmental battle to arrest the ill effects of global warming, stand as landmark achievements.
In closing, the accomplishments of the past 100 years have been many and must not be discounted. But some insist we've yet to match the substance and passion of T.R.'s 1912 legacy. With 2017 now upon us, that's worth remembering.
[i] The national vote tally in the presidential election of 1912:
Candidate: Party: Popular Vote: Electoral Vote: Voter Participation:
Woodrow Wilson Democratic 6,293,454 (41.9%) 435 58.8%
Theodore Roosevelt Progressive 4,119,538 (27.4%) 88
William H. Taft Republican 3,484,980 (23.2%) 8
Eugene V. Debs Socialist 900,672 (6%) -