Teddy Roosevelt Would Bust Things Up at 10 Downing

The U.S. president who ushered in the progressive era of land conservation, trust-busting and consumer protection has emerged as a force of sorts in Thursday’s U.K. election.


Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks to party supporters during a rally at the Addison Centre in Kempston on May 5, 2015 in Bedford, England.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

This is an excerpt from Bloomberg's daily Opening Line column.

If Theodore Roosevelt hopped down from Mount Rushmore, flew business class to London and threw his hat in the ring for prime minister, would he be Ed Miliband?

The U.S. president who ushered in the progressive era of land conservation, trust-busting and consumer protection has emerged as a force of sorts in Thursday’s U.K. election, as one ideal of what fed-up voters might be seeking as an alternative to the current prime minister, David Cameron, a Conservative.

Miliband, leader of the out-of-power Labour Party, “is fond of comparing his progressivism to that of Teddy Roosevelt, America’s trustbusting president,” the Economist reports. According to the Financial Times, Miliband gave copies of a TR biography—he had plenty to choose from—to his aides for Christmas in 2013.

That Miliband emulates an American president is no great surprise. He has loved the Boston Red Sox since spending six months living in the U.S. at age 12 and, in 2002, he taught economics at Harvard. He cites Robert F. Kennedy as his political hero.

The choice of Teddy Roosevelt is more intriguing. Unlike his fifth cousin, Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican, albeit one who would be tarred, feathered and booted from his party today. And compared with his mates on Mount Rushmore, Roosevelt is less of a fixture in civics classes.

The merits of his inclusion on Rushmore, alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, has been a periodic topic of debate over the years, especially since the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, knew him and had campaigned for him. 

The official National Park Service explanation is that Roosevelt was picked because he “provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth,” “was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal” and worked “to end large corporate monopolies.” 

Which is all true, though less pithy than the rationales for Washington (“father of the new country”), Jefferson (“author of the Declaration of Independence”) and Lincoln (“held the nation together.”)

Still, history suggests Borglum got it right. Modern-day historians tend to agree that the four Rushmore presidents were America’s best-ever when Borglum began blowing up the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1927. (The other president who is usually in the Top 5, Franklin Roosevelt, took office in 1933.)

So what would a Prime Minister Teddy Roosevelt Miliband do for our British brethren?

The Sunday Observer, in endorsing Miliband, cites Roosevelt as a model for him in taming “an era of turbo-capitalism” with “fair regulation, just taxation, strong redistribution, partnership in the EU and a vital role for a more efficient accountable state.”

The Economist, backing the incumbent Cameron, says Miliband would be a markets meddler and the comparison to Roosevelt is false: “Rather than using the state to boost competition, Mr. Miliband wants a heavier state hand in markets—which betrays an ill-founded faith in the ingenuity and wisdom of government.” 

There are, we should note, a host of other downright existential-sounding issues at play in the election, including a possible U.K.-EU divorce and a resurgence of talk about Scotland splitting off. You can get as deep as you want on election coverage here. But those who like their international news like they like their hot sauce—just a touch, please—can wake up on Friday and say, “Did the Teddy Roosevelt guy win or lose?”

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