David S. Rader on Teddy Roosevelt

by Glenn on November 16, 2015

Our Central East Portland Rotary speaker on Thursday, 12 November 2015 was David S. Rader who described himself as a history teacher whose favorite subject was Theodore Roosevelt.

Rader said this was his 81st rotary presentation on the subject:
“Theodore Roosevelt: American President/Global Leader”

Rader has a good sense of humor. He began with a quiz: “Who was the first president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize?”

We were a little slow to answer—it was Teddy Roosevelt.

“Who was the youngest president?” I said “JFK,” but it turns out that Kennedy was the youngest person to be elected president. TR became President when William McKinley was assassinated.

He asked another question where the answer was Teddy Roosevelt. We were, again, a little tentative, but he offered, “You’ll get better at this.”

One of TR’s first decisions when he became President was to invite Booker T. Washington, the most prominent black American to the White House. Rader said that decision cost TR the entire South. Yet he still won re-election in a landslide. He could have run in 1908, but he agreed to abide by the two-term policy.

TR was a scrawny kid who boxed all his life. He lost sight in one of his eyes as President when one of his eyes was scratched. One of the books he wrote was called, The Strenuous Life. I think Rader said that TR wrote 35 books. He was an extraordinarily productive man.

He suffered from insomnia. I had to listen between the lines, but I get the impression that Roosevelt was pretty wired. As a young man he was diagnosed with a heart condition, so he took nitro-glycerin pills regularly.

It was a great talk. It’s always good to learn some things, but the motivation behind his talk was two-fold:
1. Rader wanted us to read about TR, which I will do; and
2. he wanted us to think about electing a great President in 2016. He thinks the President should like their job and have the capacity for it.

In Rader’s opinion, Roosevelt was one of the great presidents, particularly because of his tremendous energy.

When Roosevelt didn’t like his successor’s—William Howard Taft—approach, Roosevelt decided to run for a third term. The story goes he was about to give a speech and he was shot. The bullet passed through a steel eyeglass case and his thick speech and went a number of inches into his enormous chest. He refused medical care. He went to give the speech, opening his coat so his listeners could see his blood-stained shirt. He said something like, “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose.” He then spoke for an hour and a half.

TR was paradoxical. In 1909 he went to Africa to hunt big game. Significant numbers, I think. But as a President he set aside 150,000,000 acres of land for conservation.

Rader mentioned a number of books during his talk:
David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback
Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt
Edmund Morris’ triology of biographies of TR
Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn:Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America

He also recommends the Ken Burns series, The Roosevelts.

Rader referenced Roosevelt’s Sorbonne speech given 23 April 1910 after he was out of office. And here’s that quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”