Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Man with the Muck-rake

I thought this was a cool speech of TR’s and not one I usually see pulled out, so I wanted to share it – TR’s “The Main with the Muck-rake.”

Here is also a piece on the legacy of the speech: 
In a post‐Watergate era, we sometimes hear the term "muckraker" used in more positive ways‐‐as a label describing investigative or "watchdog" journalism that brings about positive change.64 Yet in an era of tabloid journalism that often treats gossip and rumors as "news," we may be well‐advised to remember Roosevelt's distinction between "good" and "bad" muckraking. Hailing those who exposed genuine wrongdoing, Roosevelt had no objection to even to the most "merciless" exposés‐‐so long as they were "absolutely truthful" (4). He did object to untruthful stories, however, for those only hurt the cause of progressive reform. Roosevelt's ultimate point, as summarized in perhaps the most famous line of the speech, still holds true today: "Hysterical sensationalism is the very poorest weapon wherewith to fight for lasting righteousness" (9).
Roosevelt's legacy also includes a particular conception of "progress" and "progressive" reform that many still embrace. Looking to the central government to assure fairness, justice, and equal opportunity in America, many of today's self-described "progressives" embrace Roosevelt's belief  that the issues facing citizens today have become too complex or too far‐reaching to be managed by individuals or even by local or state governments. Like Roosevelt, many of today's progressives consider the individual helpless against the power of the big corporations, and today's progressives
embrace many of the same economic, social, and political reforms championed by Roosevelt, including federally mandated conservation and the "living wage."65  Today's progressives tend to find Roosevelt's foreign policy rhetoric a bit too aggressive for their tastes, but his domestic reform efforts left a legacy of progressive politics that persists to this day.66

Finally, the moralistic rhetoric of Roosevelt and other Progressive‐Era reformers still echoes in today's political discourse‐‐for both good and ill. On the one hand, we hear echoes of Theodore Roosevelt in President Barack Obama's call for a "new era of responsibility"‐‐an era in which a spirit of service and personal character still matter.67 On the other hand, moralistic rhetoric has led us to a seemingly endless War against Terror in which black‐and‐white thinking and simplistic distinctions between "good" and "evil" sometimes substitute for more nuanced deliberation. Casting the War against Terror as a moral crusade, former president George W. Bush rallied the country after the 9/11 attacks to embrace a new spirit of service and sacrifice, as a number of scholars have noted, but that spirit soon gave way to a rhetoric of polarization and division.68 Moralistic rhetoric, in other words, can be a double‐edged sword; it can be used to unify and motivate people to do good things, but it also can function to oversimplify complex issues and silence dissent.       

No comments: