New Year’s tea with the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt

January is named after Janus, a Roman deity with two conjoined heads facing backwards and forwards. He was the god of endings and beginnings, the one who oversaw transitions from past to future. In ancient times his image was placed above gates and doors.

Few Americans have heard of Janus; but every January we look back over the past twelve months and offer prognostications for the coming year. We resolve to open ourselves to improvements and close another chapter on our shortcomings.

So how do we project hindsight forward for a new decade? Seems like just yesterday we were trying to hang the hinges on a new century and millennium.

My two bits are provided in a column published today in my host newspaper (dailyastorian.com), plus this ditty I’m posting hither and yon. It’s kind of a prayer, like many of the op-eds I’ve written in the past 19 years. Not a supplication to Janus, mind you, but an appeal to fellow citizens urging a merger of two primal political forces.

We’ve come to call these forces "progressive" and "conservative," terms so loaded with vitriol that they’ve lost much of their meaning. The progressive force looks forward to transcend past prejudices and avaricious habits. It embraces the common good, challenges business-as-usual, and often needles neoliberals.

In tandem, the conservative force keeps sight of our heritage. It resists destructive change and protects precious resources that are essential to life. Libertarians might disagree, but I suspect this force spent more time with John Muir than Ayn Rand.

America’s best leaders have striven to integrate these forces when considering the pros and cons of public policy. Yet to our detriment they have also been split and spliced onto a Left-Right political spectrum. Today we think of progressive and conservative as polarized worldviews guiding combatant political parties. Many assume that one or the other force is effective to the degree that Democrats or Republicans amass power.

This was the assumption when voters ushered in a changing of the Washington guard in 2006 and 2008. Now we see the new guard is more like the old guard than many hoped. People moved by the progressive force are disheartened to see Democratic leaders kowtow to the same corporate interests that dictated policy for Republicans.

The last time the partisan field looked like it does now was in 1994, when Republicans staged a successful campaign to take control of Congress away from Democrats. Their script for that "conservative revolution" was a document titled "Contract with America." The forces now coursing through our body politic are reminiscent of that time. It would be profitable for many in positions of power if we were to kick the new old guard out and replace them with the old new guard again.

I suggest we revive the memory of a Republican who’s leadership was markedly different. It is fitting that today, Epiphany, is the anniversary of the death of Teddy Roosevelt, who asserted the following in his party’s "Contract With The People:"

"The concentration of modern business, in some degree, is both inevitable and necessary for National and international business efficiency. But the existing concentration of vast wealth under a corporate system, unguarded and uncontrolled by the Nation, has placed in the hands of a few men enormous, secret, irresponsible power over the daily life of the citizen – a power insufferable in a free government and certain of abuse."

"This power has been abused, in monopoly of National resources, in stock watering, in unfair competition and unfair privileges, and finally in sinister influences on the public agencies of State and Nation. We do not fear commercial power, but we insist that it shall be exercised openly, under publicity, supervision and regulation of the most efficient sort, which will preserve its good while eradicating and preventing its evils."

Much of our current problems arise because our government lets such evils run rampant. Instead of transparency, oversight, and rule of law, our leaders embrace the liberalization of trade and the de-regulation of big business.

If we are to have a new "revolution," patriots should look closely at the corporate context of the Boston Tea Party. The iconic act of defiance was aimed at the British East India Company, a mercantile interest that had reached the point of bankruptcy, apparently because it outgrew its capacity to manage its affairs. Deemed too big to fail, the English government sought to bailout the mammoth company with special legislation.

This could be a pivotal year if Americans invite the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt to attend tea parties during the primaries. That would energize me and perhaps others who yearn for a fusion of primal forces. Who knows, it might even inject some life into a few incumbent Democrats and Republicans.

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