In a recent blogpost
, entitled “What would FDR say?”, I commented on Barack Obama’s tendency to disparage his country in his speeches and, citing Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, contrasted it with Franklin Roosevelt’s rhetoric. In my evening reading, I came across another example of talking about your country by the other President Roosevelt. The following passage is from TR’s The Winning of the West,
published in 1889, the year he turned 31. It was not his first book, and it was published when he was younger than Barack Obama was when his first book was published. TR is writing about the way Americans settled and developed the West. Warning: he uses words like “race” in a way we wouldn’t today.
“It has often been said that we owe all our success to our surroundings; that any race with our opportunities could have done as we have done. Undoubtedly our opportunities have been great; undoubtedly we have often and lamentably failed in taking advantage of them. But what nation has ever done all that was possible with the chances offered it? The Spaniards, the Portuguese, and the French, not to speak of the Russians in Siberia, have all enjoyed, and yet have failed to make good use of, the same advantages which we have turned to good account. The truth is, that in starting a new nation in a new country, as we have done, while there are exceptional chances to be taken advantage of, there are also exceptional dangers and difficulties to be overcome. None but heroes can succeed wholly in the work. It is a good thing for us at times to compare what we have done with what we could have done, had we been better and wiser; it may make us try in the future to raise our abilities to the level of our opportunities. Looked at absolutely, we must frankly acknowledge that we have fallen very far shot of the high ideal we should have reached. Looked at relatively, it must also be said that we have done better than any other nation or race working under our conditions.”