Shaping the Presidency, Part II

By Dr. Kelli Criss

Last week, we discussed President Theodore Roosevelt’s shaping of the American Presidency.  Calling the office, a “bully pulpit,” he pushed the legislative branch and the country to support his agenda. Today’s blog, The Bully Pulpit, describes Roosevelt’s strategy in more detail.   

President Roosevelt operated through four tools: a) well-placed experts in the executive branch, b) an active legislative and labor role, c) a masterful media plan, and d) a group of informal advisors.   

Expert Research and Actively Legislating 

To address the emerging needs of a rapidly changing society, President Roosevelt sought out specialists in their respective fields and recruited them to serve in the executive branch.  While this practice is commonplace today, government’s emphasis on hiring people with expertise in a given area was a strikingly novel idea in the early twentieth century.  Strategically placing experts tended to concentrate power in the federal government generally and, more specifically, in the agencies and departments of Roosevelt’s executive branch. 

Some of these new government “experts” conducted legitimate research in areas such as public health, national defense, and more.  Other research and resulting policy outcomes were misguided at best—even racist and misogynist.  Prior to World War I, for example, at the height of concern over sexually transmitted disease in the armed forces, any woman in the United States could be required to submit to public health exam is she were even suspected of being infected—an absurd violation of her rights under the Constitution. 

Nevertheless, these new government experts used their findings as a guide, writing legislation to deal with the problems they had studied.  This process was similarly used by the more progressive portions of the Republican Party who pushed for labor and other reforms.  President Roosevelt thus adopted a significant element of the emerging progressive movement, frequently alienating conservative Republicans. 

President Roosevelt’s “bully pulpit” and exceedingly outgoing personality served to keep the Party together, barely. The activist president actually helped to write bills himself and to get them through Congress.  When Congress resisted, Roosevelt turned to the media.   

Labor Dispute Mediation 

The United Mine Workers (UMW) walked out in 1902, beginning a strike that lasted through spring, summer and into the fall.  As the cold winter months approached, the government and the country’s fears about having enough coal for winter increased.   

At this point, President Roosevelt stepped in as a negotiator, making him the very first president to mediate a labor dispute personally.  Previously, federal troops had been used to stamp out strikes and force miners back to their work.   

True to his usual form, Roosevelt skirted the boundaries of his Constitutional authority by warning the UMW and the coal industry that he would employ troops to work the mines and allow the government to take the profits.  Such threatened use of troops and funds may have been unconstitutional, but it successfully forced an agreement between the UMW and the coal industry.  The two sides agreed to allow a presidential commission to negotiate an agreement and to enable the workers to return to the mines while the negotiations occurred. 

If all this sounds incredibly familiar, it’s because President Trump’s personal involvement in issues such as building a wall on the Southern border, trade battles with China, and arm-twisting Congress, strongly echo President Roosevelt’s immersion in running the country.  

Outside Resources: The Media, the People, and Informal Advisors 

Roosevelt reached outside of the executive office to the media, the public, and informal advisors to accomplish his goals.  His media skills enabled him to challenge Congressional opposition to the legislation he supported by meeting with reporters regularly.  Writing articles for the magazines of his day was another strategy he employed.  Speaking tours to engage the public helped him lay out his agenda all over the country.  Roosevelt also had a set of informal advisors who were young men like Gifford Pinchot, the 1st Chief of the United States Forest Service, and James R. Garfield, the Secretary of the Interior.  This informal set of advisors joined Roosevelt to play tennis or ride horses as they talked over policy issues.  The media referred to these informal advisors as the “Tennis Cabinet” because of the sports enjoyed by the politicians and the President during critical conversations. 

Presidential Power 

President Roosevelt set the course of the Presidency for over one hundred years through the increased power he obtained for the executive branch.  Now, the Chief Executive of our Republic wields all of the power of the Presidency either for faith or for godlessness.  As we see from the example of Roosevelt’s Presidency, the American Commander in Chief has the authority to set the course of our highest elected office and the nation for generations.   

Florida Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) bands together with the faith community to support candidates and issues aligned with a Biblical worldview.  Let’s work together to ensure we elect a President who appoints conservative judges, protects life, and preserves family!   Check out more about Florida FFC’s efforts to support President Trump and find ways to volunteer by visiting our website. We’ll see you again for next week’s blog.   

 Sources 

Greenberg, D. (2016, January).  How Teddy Roosevelt invented spin. The Atlantic. Retrieved from  

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/how-teddy-roosevelt-invented-spin/426699/

Gould, L. L. (1991).  The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.  Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.  

Tompkins, V. (1996).  American Decades: 1900-1909.  Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Inc.  

Whitehouse.gov. (n.d.). Theodore Roosevelt. Retrieved from  

https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/theodore-roosevelt/

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