What Hillary Can Learn From the Roosevelts

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Josh Zeitz has taught American history and politics at Cambridge University and Princeton University and is the author of Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln's Image. He is currently writing a book on the making of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Follow him @joshuamzeitz.

Last November, shortly after viewing Ken Burns’ documentary, The Roosevelts, former Secretary of State 2016 presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton defied conventional wisdom by finding common purpose not with Eleanor Roosevelt, her belle ideal of a liberal stateswoman, but with Eleanor’s uncle, Theodore Roosevelt—he of Rough Rider and Bull Moose fame.

“I do think there are parallels between the time in which [TR] served and our own times,” Clinton explained, including among those similarities “how he dealt with the imbalances that were in the economy and in society.”

Clinton, whose official campaign kickoff will take place on Roosevelt Island on June 16, is not the only Democrat recently to stake legacy rights to TR’s progressive agenda. In 2011, President Barack Obama delivered a key campaign address on the subject of economic equality at Osawatomie, Kansas, where Roosevelt laid out his “New Nationalism” platform 101 years earlier. But as a founding member of a formidable political line and the only former first lady ever to run for president in her own right, Clinton is right to look to the Roosevelts for historical precedence and guidance.

Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt shared a famous last name and a complicated and entangled family history. Each is associated with progressive or liberal politics. But they were temperamentally and ideologically their own people and products of their own times.

For Hillary Clinton, three different Roosevelts offer three different lessons. ...




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