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True Believer: TR, McCain, and Conservatism

Author: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies
Fall 2008
World Affairs Journal


Theodore Roosevelt is carved onto Mount Rushmore along with our greatest presidents. (At least the greatest as of 1927, when work on the monument began.) But does he belong in the conservative pantheon? John McCain thinks so. "I count myself as a conservative Republican," he told the New York Times, "yet I view it to a large degree in the Theodore Roosevelt mold." In some conservative circles this caveat deepens the suspicion that McCain may not be one of them. Writing in National Review Online, the Web site of the magazine that has defined mainstream conservatism for more than four decades, author and biographer Michael Knox Beran complains, "Far from allaying conservative fears, McCain can only add to them by trying to make a conservative of a man who, largely for reasons of expediency, embraced a host of dubious reforms, and who ended his public career by embracing the Progressive dream of a state strong enough to command the industry and commerce of the nation." A similar case was made in Bully Boy, a polemic published in 2006 by Cato Institute fellow Jim Powell. (Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt have come in for similar thrashings from Powell.) From the other side of the political spectrum, historian Douglas Brinkley opines, "Roosevelt today would be on the left," and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert writes that TR "was a far, far cry from John McCain and today's G.O.P."

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