Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- Such is the zeal in portions of the tea party right that it is not enough to sweep out living members of the establishment such as John McCain. A brisk, ideological scrubbing must be applied to history as well.

So Glenn Beck, speaking recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference identified a great enemy of human freedom as ... Teddy Roosevelt. Beck highlighted this damning Roosevelt quote: "We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used."

Ah, you don't discern the scandal in this statement? Look closer. "This is not our founders' idea of America," explains Beck. "And this is the cancer that's eating at America. It is big government -- it's a socialist utopia." Evidently, real conservatives defend wealth that is dishonorably gained and then wasted.

The problem with America, apparently, is not just the Great Society or even the New Deal; it is the Square Deal. Or maybe Beck is just being too timid. Real, hairy-chested libertarians pin the blame on Abraham Lincoln, who centralized federal power at the expense of the states to pursue an unnecessary war -- a view that Ron Paul, the winner of the CPAC straw poll, has endorsed.

Lincoln doesn't need defenders against accusations of tyranny -- the mere charge is enough to diagnose some sad ideological disorder. But the Rough Rider also does not deserve such roughing up.

Sean Hannity FREE

TR picked a number of fights with conservative Republicans, fight-picking being his favorite sport. But Roosevelt hated socialism. "It would spell sheer destruction," he said. "It would produce grosser wrong and outrage, fouler immorality, than any existing system." Modern corporate capitalism, he believed, was inevitable, even admirable. But he also believed that overly centralized and unaccountable power in a capitalist system creates destructive clashes of labor and capital, rich and poor. So he busted monopolistic trusts, imposed health standards on filthy meat-packing plants and promoted a more professional, merit-based civil service.

Roosevelt's progressivism could sound a bit like socialism. When courts struck down laws allowing strikes and limiting maximum work hours, Roosevelt warned, "If the spirit which lies behind these ... decisions obtained in all the actions of the ... courts, we should not only have a revolution, but it would be absolutely necessary to have a revolution because the condition of the worker would become intolerable."


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Michael Gerson's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.