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CRB: A bully’s pulpit

In previewing the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here) yesterday we featured Bill Voegeli’s demolition of Michael Grunwald’s panegyric supporting the godawful stimulus bill of 2009, enacted right around the time that the recession was ending (according to the National Bureau of Economic Research). We continue our preview today with Hillsdale College Professor R.J. Pestritto’s review of Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition, by Bowdoin College’s Gary M. Pendy Professor of Social Sciences Jean Yarbrough.

As Jonah Goldberg noted in a recent CRB review, the conservative critique of the progressive movement can be traced almost wholly to the groundbreaking work of scholars affiliated with the Claremont Institute. Professor Pestritto is arguably the foremost of those scholars in this realm. Witness his book Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism. Professor Pestritto is therefore the perfect match for Professor Yarbrough’s book, and I chose to preview his review to illustrate the ideal pairing of book with reviewer that the CRB so frequently achieves.

Where does Theodore Roosevelt fit in the American political tradition? What are we to make of his progressivism combined with other attributes that we admire? Conservatives have long had an uneasy relationship with TR. On the one hand, we are attracted to his brash confidence and forthright love of this great land. On the other hand, he founded the Progressive Party and delivered the 1912 election to Woodrow Wilson.

Professor Yarbrough carefully examines Roosevelt’s writings and speeches, tracing the arc of his thought from his days as a Harvard undergraduate. Among other things, the book performs a feat of intellectual reconstruction. Professor Yarbrough demonstrates how inimical Roosevelt’s thought was to that of his purported political heroes. Yarbrough’s book makes a signal contribution to American political history — and to understanding the source of our current struggles. Recall, for example, Obama’s journey in December 2011 to Osawatomie, Kansas, to tout his agenda and roast Republicans. (The White House text of Obama’s speech is posted here.)

Why Osawatomie? Obama sought out the spot where TR had given his famous address trumpeting a new progressive agenda 101 years earlier.

No book on TR prior to Professor Yarbrough’s has given anywhere near an adequate account of his thought. In “A bully’s pulpit,” Pestritto lauds Professor Yarbrough’s book and, though she herself doesn’t disclose whether she prefers the thought of TR or that of the founders, gives her high praise for drawing the line of demarcation so clearly that even a madly charging Bull Moose couldn’t fail to see it.

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