One of John McCain’s favorite themes is to cast himself in the role of a latter-day Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican “reformer” with a taste for an aggressive military posture, who’s not allergic to public sector activism on occasion. Indeed, in a recent New York Times interview, asked to name a conservative “model” for his politics, McCain said: “I count myself as a conservative Republican, yet I view it to a large degree in the Theodore Roosevelt mold.” This has also been a favorite talking-point for a variety of McCain fans and advisors, ranging from the former “Bull Moose” blogger Marshall Wittmann (a longtime McCain associate who’s currently Joe Lieberman’s press secretary) and columnist David Brooks.
Inevitably, he was going to get some conservative grief for the TR-as-model claim, and it came in abundant and even hilarious measure from historian Michael Knox Beran today at National Review.
Beran’s piece is a long excoriation of TR as an anti-capitalist, a statist, an egomaniac, an emotionally erratic opportunist, and even a proto-fascist. His message to McCain is very blunt:
In advertising his hero-worship of Teddy, Sen. McCain exhibits a little too blatantly an aspect of his own psyche that would best be kept under wraps. He, too, has been accused of political narcissism. If he wants to reassure conservatives, he needs to persuade them that, unlike Roosevelt’s, his own policies will be grounded in something more solid than expediency and a canny reading of the whimsies of the moment.
If you’re interested in Beran’s analysis of TR as representing “the degenerate philosophy of late romanticism,” you can read the whole thing. But his conclusion is funny enough:
All in all, John McCain would do best to talk more about Ronald Reagan, and less about Theodore Roosevelt. And while he is at it, he might come up with a new “favorite book,” one that isn’t, like For Whom the Bell Tolls, a maudlin lament for a socialist bridge-bomber.
From the “true conservative” point of view, you see, Papa Hemingway backed the wrong side in the Spanish Civil War. McCain needs to flip-flop on that issue as well.