Karl Rove: Lessons from a Larger-than-Life President

Roundup: Talking About History

Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most remarkable figures in America's story. Adventurous, brave, opinionated, a larger-than-life personality, he was a man of action, energy and motion. T.R. loved what he called "the literature of history"--and wanted to be a key actor in America's great drama.

Roosevelt was not perfect by any means--but he was an extraordinary man by any reasonable measure. He was among our most consequential Presidents, changing America in deep and lasting ways. A century after he served as President, he still has many things to teach us. Among them:

1. It is every American's responsibility to be active in our civic life. "The first duty of an American citizen, then," Roosevelt said, "is that he shall work in politics." T.R. took the title of citizen seriously. He believed freedom could not be preserved without Americans "striving and suffering for it" by defending the nation and participating in the practical work of democracy.

2. Politics should be animated by large, important ideas. For a man who said "I like big things," politics was about precisely that. T.R. was not interested so much in management or budgeting matters; he wanted to grapple with big issues like America's role in the world, social justice and fairness in competition. Whether it was waging war or waging peace--T.R. was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize--he shaped the future of the nation and the course of human events. In doing so, he helped invent the modern American presidency.

3. The United States, while not flawless, is a profound force for good in the world. Theodore Roosevelt led a reluctant nation, largely indifferent to world affairs, onto the global stage. On his watch, America became a great world power. "There comes a time in the life of a nation, as in the life of an individual, when it must face great responsibilities, whether it will or no," he said in 1898. "We have now reached that time. We cannot avoid facing the fact that we occupy a new place among the people of the world ... Our flag is a proud flag, and it stands for liberty and civilization. Where it has once floated, there must be no return to tyranny."

4. Leadership matters. Confident in his own powers of judgment and persuasion, Roosevelt believed in "immediate and rigorous executive action" in times of crisis. And whether they agreed with him or not, Americans knew where this human dynamo stood on the great issues of his time. Driven by a fervent belief in the Declaration of Independence, he drew strength from his faith that all Americans "stand on the same footing," as human beings worthy of respect. And like all great leaders, he inspired those he led, turning his convictions into theirs....

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