My wife and I have been devoting time over the past few weeks to watch Ken Burns 14-hour biographical documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History . I was excited when she brought the DVD set home from our public library mainly because of my great admiration for Theodore Roosevelt, but the opportunity to learn more about Franklin and Eleanor in the pleasantly passive format of video was compelling as well.
I’ve got a larger post in the works about FDR, but the main thing that I’ve taken away from the film thus far is that these were giant personalities, with giant ideas, who were unafraid to step boldly forward when events called for action. It is difficult to process this, considering the caliber of leadership we’ve had during my life–Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Little Bush, even President Obama. Some better than others, but none of them Great in the true sense. All of them, on a mythological scale, have been “small” men defined, in the end, by their limitations.
I look out at the candidates we’re being handed and I’m unimpressed. Three niche Republicans shaped from the same cookie cutter, different only in the details with which they’ve been decorated, and Hillary Clinton, the candidate I supported 8 years ago–owing to her savvy, intellect, and depth–but who now just feels like a doorway to the past.
Others will surely step forward–perhaps Chris Christie will take a stab at emerging from the stench of corruption that rises from New Jersey, and we’ve heard Jeb Bush–a predictably milquetoast Republican who, right now, might be the only conservative out there with a chance.
None of them, however, have any big ideas–the conservatives are mired in pettiness, dragged down by tea party greed and religious hysteria, and strangled by the power brokers who fund them and run their machines, whose only goal to to save their corporations a few dollars at the expense of the nation that feeds their wealth. Short-sighted fools.
And the Democrats….sigh.
I look out at our nation and have to wonder if we’re incapable of creating these kind of giants any more. Does the rigid hierarchy of the entrenched two-party system weed out the exceptional individuals so completely that our fate is to always be restricted to average people with small ideas? I wonder. Was it that rare combination of wealth and progressivism that allowed them to transcend the entrenched power brokers of the day–Teddy facing down the industrialists in his Republican Party, and Franklin taming the corrupt New York City power brokers who controlled his Democrats?
Bull Moose, anyone?