“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
These sage words from history past came to mind immediately upon hearing the United States of America and the president were contemplating a strong and decisive action against the Syrian government, following a chemical weapons attack on some of their own people in a Damascus suburb Aug. 21.
Video of its aftermath showed men sprawled on a tiled floor in convulsions, children unable to control shaking and flailing, with screams of panicked Syrians audible in the background.
It was estimated some 1,400 people died, a good many of them children.
No matter where our opinions come down on this issue, it appears as if there are no good solutions to this question, no matter what is done with Syria and its despotic leader, Bashar al-Assad.
Blow his chemical weapons capability to kingdom come? Work out an equitable yet difficult-to-achieve diplomatic solution, where his weapons are neutralized? Totally back the rebels in Syria’s civil war, who may be as bad or worse than Assad himself? Do nothing and embolden others with ill intent?
So, I turn back the pages of history to one of this nation’s best leaders, a man who was thought well enough of to have his visage chiseled onto Mount Rushmore, along with iconic presidents named Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
Teddy Roosevelt stands out to me as maybe this nation’s greatest true leader, simply because he was a leader that wanted to do the best he could for all Americans, no matter what their political persuasion, their station in life or their views.
He probably was this nation’s most gregarious president, a man you can see in many photographs grinning broadly. Yet, in other photos, he has this stern countenance that tells you he truly was a man who could speak softly, yet carry that big stick, as the old proverb goes.
Teddy, as he was wont to be called, was born in New York City three years before the Civil War, into a wealthy family with a strong Democrat background.
He experienced tragedy in 1884, when his first wife, Alice Lee, and his mother died on the same day.
During the Spanish-American War, he served as an officer in the Rough Riders regiment, and gained fame and glory for the famous charge up Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill in Cuba.
By 1898, he ran as a Republican for governor of New York, won and served with distinction.
Serving as vice president under President William McKinley in the reform wing of the GOP, he was thrust upon the stage of world politics in 1901, when an assassin’s bullet felled McKinley.
As president, Teddy held a unique ideal at the time, that the government of the United States should be the great arbiter of conflicting economic forces in this nation, especially between capitalist and labor — guaranteeing justice to each and dispensing favors to none.
Best known as the trust buster, the youngest man to ever serve as president (42) strongly pushed anti-monopoly policies and ecological conservation, winning a second term as a popular president, and eventually a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending the Russo-Japanese War.
His commitment to fairness for Americans coined the term the “Square Deal” — domestic policies that embraced reform of the workplace, government regulation of industry and consumer protection, and an aim to help the ever-expanding middle class of America.
While Teddy was noted for his gregarious nature, he also was noted famously for pounding his fists and impassioned, emphatic rhetoric in pushing his policies onto the America stage — at the time controlled by big monopolies and big money.
He whole-heartedly supported desegregation and women’s suffrage.
In his second term, he also strongly believed America needed to take its rightful place on the world stage.
He bulked up the Navy and created the “Great White Fleet,” sending warships on a tour of the world to demonstrate U.S. military might.
He expedited completion of the Panama Canal, which allowed ships to pass between the vast Atlantic and Pacific oceans in half the time previously required.
Considered the first modern president, he completely cast away the shackles from the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction, which he perceived was holding back America from being a true world power.
His vision, as much as any president in history, was of America being a world power to be reckoned with.
And, that dream eventually became reality.
So, how would a grinning Teddy Roosevelt, former Rough Rider carrying that big stick behind his back, react to Syria and Assad today?
You be the judge.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/historicallyspeaking