Opinion | Theodore Roosevelt, Health Care Progressive

Theodore Roosevelt died 100 years in the past Sunday, on Jan. 6, 1919, at his residence in Oyster Bay, N.Y. A pulmonary embolism, the docs stated.

Americans discovered it exhausting to consider that Roosevelt was lifeless, a lot much less that he had died in mattress. For so long as they may keep in mind, he had lived at full tilt. He was the frontiersman who confronted down a grizzly, the Rough Rider who fought within the Spanish-American War, the presidential candidate who made a speech with a recent bullet wound in his chest.

The heroics thrilled numerous American boys of the period — Ernest Hemingway amongst them — and their elders had cheered in 1899 when Roosevelt exhorted the nation to get off its duff and take up “the strenuous life.” Toil, effort, high-minded endeavor — these have been the issues that made life price residing, in his opinion. If Americans surrendered to “ignoble ease,” he warned, they might by no means obtain nationwide greatness.

A century later, that’s nonetheless how most Americans keep in mind him. But a quieter a part of his legacy additionally deserves to be celebrated, particularly in an period of incessant discord over well being care. Few Americans know that their most bodily vigorous president was additionally the primary main American political determine to advocate passionately for nationwide medical insurance.

Theodore Roosevelt might have impressed he-men later in life, however he started life in delicate well being, a reality he by no means forgot. Born in 1858, he quickly developed bronchial asthma. In that period, asthmatics lived fully on the mercy of their illness, not understanding when it could strike or if an assault would show deadly. Roosevelt took up bodybuilding in his early teenagers, and as typically occurs, the bronchial asthma abated as he reached maturity. Emerging from the ordeal as a advantageous bodily specimen, he took delight in his power, and for the remainder of his life would exalt power in nations in addition to in males.

If Roosevelt’s presidency needed to be summed up in a phrase, “power” would serve. He strengthened the workplace of the presidency in addition to the regulatory energy of the federal authorities. He refereed the never-ending contest between capital and labor, arguing that solely the nationwide authorities had sufficient energy to make sure truthful play. His overseas coverage has been intelligently praised and intelligently damned, however past query, it strengthened the United States in world affairs within the opening decade of the 20th century.

So nice was Roosevelt’s preoccupation with power that almost all of his biographers have felt obliged to clarify it. Most have seen it as a response to his childhood sickness, and a few have steered that the early delicacy left him with insecurities about his masculinity. One instance cited by the prosecution: “Sissy” was a favourite Rooseveltian insult. Another: He wouldn’t be photographed on the tennis courtroom, as a result of the sport was performed by girls in addition to by males.

Given the huge consideration paid to the causes of Roosevelt’s love of power, there’s a shocking lack of dialogue about one in every of its most engaging results: an distinctive sensitivity to the wants of the sick and others within the grip of circumstances past their management. Roosevelt’s efforts on behalf of employees exploited by employers have been nicely chronicled, however from his earliest days in politics till the final months of his life, he labored equally exhausting to enhance the well being of his fellow residents. Who knew?

The gap within the story is partly Roosevelt’s fault. His concern for public well being crops up only some instances in his autobiography, and the tales advised are introduced as discrete episodes, not illustrations of an extended dedication.

In the primary, he’s a 23-year-old Republican freshman within the New York State Assembly, combating for a ban on do-it-yourself cigars. As the consultant of Manhattan’s silk stocking district, Roosevelt was anticipated to be a laissez-faire man, towards authorities interference in enterprise. But when he visited cigar makers of their tenements, he was appalled to seek out complete households affected by eye, pores and skin and lung illnesses brought on by extended publicity to uncooked tobacco.

Roosevelt determined to champion a proposed ban and persuaded the Legislature to move the invoice. But a decide quickly dominated that the brand new statute violated the sanctity of residence. The resolution gave Roosevelt his first style of the opposition in retailer for politicians who challenged the untrammeled capitalism of the day.

At 39, as Col. Roosevelt of the Rough Riders, he pressed for the speedy departure of American troops from Cuba on the finish of the Spanish-American War. The War Department had needed the troops to remain till a peace treaty was signed, however Washington relented when Roosevelt identified that the troopers have been at excessive threat of dying from illness. He was proper: Ninety p.c of the American conflict lifeless in Cuba had succumbed to yellow fever, malaria and poor sanitation.

Eight years later, President Roosevelt gained passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. He succeeded by seizing on public outrage over a best-selling novel, “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, which had uncovered the stomach-turning situations in Chicago’s meatpacking crops. Signed on the identical day in 1906, the legal guidelines have been milestones in well being and in federal regulation of enterprise for the general public good.

Apart from these measures, Roosevelt had little success in persuading Congress to enact extra legal guidelines to enhance well being. Though he fought on, he discovered himself up towards a bunch of entrenched forces: a public suspicious of governmental energy, the judiciary’s behavior of treating social laws as an infringement on particular person liberties and the South’s alarm on the rising energy of the nationwide authorities.

As president, Roosevelt was conscious that the governments of Germany, France and Britain had arrange packages to assist their residents stave off the monetary catastrophes related to previous age, sickness, damage, unemployment and lack of a breadwinner. He was embarrassed that the United States had nothing comparable. The thought of utilizing the federal government’s power to help these unable to fend for themselves appeared to him a mark of nationwide greatness. And there have been few issues he coveted greater than Europe’s recognition of American greatness.

Unable to make any legislative progress on this entrance, Roosevelt resorted to different techniques. He issued dozens of govt orders creating federal wildlife refuges on public land, a transfer that protected animals and decreased air pollution. He additionally made liberal use of presidential commissions. The Inland Waterways Commission was established in 1907 to handle the nation’s lakes and rivers and to develop their potential as a transportation community. The ostensible targets have been financial, however the plan additionally known as for flood management, soil reclamation and air pollution abatement — all boons to public well being.

Toward the tip of his presidency, Roosevelt appointed a White House fee to review the issues of rural life. Among the chief matters of the group’s report was the poor state of well being within the hinterlands. Farms should be wholesome locations to dwell, the commissioners wrote, however docs and nurses have been scarce, and most rural Americans had not been schooled within the rudiments of hygiene. While some states had public well being departments, many didn’t. And due to widespread antipathy to federal energy, officers couldn’t intervene besides to handle outbreaks of illness amongst cattle. Treading softly, the fee made solely gentle suggestions: fundamental schooling in hygiene and sanitation, and a promise of federal assist in well being issues if a state requested it.

Roosevelt additionally invented the White House convention, giving himself yet one more approach to act with out Congress. In 1908 he hosted a convention of governors, centered on conservation, and almost each governor current went residence and fashioned a state conservation fee. The expertise was a victory for conservation and public well being, and it provided a mannequin for federal-state collaboration on issues affecting the well-being of all Americans.

The most notable of Roosevelt’s White House conferences, on dependent youngsters, came about a number of weeks earlier than he left workplace. The thought got here from a younger lawyer who had grown up in an orphanage and was urgent for governmental subsidies to widowed moms, whose poverty typically pressured them to put their youngsters in orphanages. Roosevelt issued the invites on Dec. 25, 1908, a date certainly not chosen at random.

On Jan. 25, 1909, Jane Addams, Booker T. Washington, and a few 200 youngster welfare advocates, juvenile courtroom judges, administrators of orphanages and leaders of social service organizations turned out for the White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children. Considered a landmark in American social coverage, the convention led to the institution of the United States Children’s Bureau, spurred the expansion of adoption businesses and impressed the founding the Child Welfare League of America.

When Roosevelt left workplace, on March four, his information have been thick with correspondence from social activists, city reformers, physicians and others who shared his perception that the federal authorities should play a bigger position in advancing well being and well-being. On a two-month tour of Europe in 1910, he made some extent of assembly politicians and social reformers who had helped to place up the primary government-sponsored social security nets.

Two years later, disturbed by the Republicans’ drift to the political proper, Roosevelt defected from the G.O.P., fashioned the National Progressive Party, and made a rogue run for an unprecedented third time period within the White House (he entered workplace in 1901, after William McKinley was assassinated). With the insights he gained in Europe and the assistance of American consultants on well being and welfare, he and his allies crafted probably the most socially progressive social gathering platforms in American historical past. It known as for common medical insurance; a nationwide public well being service; insurance coverage for the aged, the unemployed and the disabled; the tip of kid labor; the abolition of the seven-day workweek; and a minimal wage ample sufficient to assist a household of 4, present for recreation and permit financial savings for a wet day.

After dropping the election, Roosevelt continued to have interaction in politics via a whole lot of newspaper columns and journal articles. The social agenda of his 1912 platform lived on, inspiring progressives of each events. And with the Social Security Act of 1935, Franklin Roosevelt secured a lot of what his distant cousin Theodore had been striving for: old-age insurance coverage, unemployment insurance coverage, assist to households with dependent youngsters, and assist for the disabled. Opposition from the medical occupation blocked the trail to nationwide medical insurance, and opposition from the South ensured that Social Security would exclude home and agricultural labor, main occupations of African-Americans.

Theodore Roosevelt was not excellent. He was not progressive on race. Nor was he within the vanguard of the battle for a constitutional modification giving all American girls the proper to vote. Despite his many collaborations with girls reformers working to handle the wants of the sick and the poor, he would all the time consider girl’s true place was within the residence.

Roosevelt’s efforts within the area of well being yielded extra defeats than triumphs. No politician relishes defeat, however because the preacher of the risk-taking strenuous life, he may hardly whine about his losses. Ultimately he determined that the person who mattered most was the person within the enviornment, taking his lumps and carrying on. Such a person may make errors, Roosevelt stated, and he may come up quick, however he’s striving valiantly, spending himself in a worthy trigger, and “if he fails, he no less than fails whereas daring vastly.”

If life dealt Theodore Roosevelt the excessive playing cards of wealth and privilege, the lengthy go well with of his boyhood was a life-threatening sickness. The expertise may need produced a person who lived on his inheritance and shied away from all issues strenuous. This boy, keen and in a position to make himself sturdy, entered the political enviornment and fought towards lengthy odds for the well being and well-being of his fellow residents — a worthy trigger if ever there was one. There could also be no higher manner for the nation to honor his reminiscence than to get off its duff and persevere till all Americans have first rate well being care.

Patricia O’Toole is the writer of a number of biographies, together with “The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made” and “When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House.” She is writing a ebook about Theodore Roosevelt and American well being.

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