I would like to have seen someone I’ve always distrusted a bit but fear I might have admired a good deal. I’d like to have seen Theodore Roosevelt. Not at San Juan Hill, not shooting wild animals, setting up the National Park Service, entertaining Booker T. Washington at the White House, or getting the Russians and Japanese to sign a peace treaty.
I would like to have seen him at Madison Square Garden in the fall of 1912 when he was running for President on his own Bull Moose ticket against both Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft. There he was, rejected by politicians of the Republican party he had served, but determined to regain the Presidency after stepping aside for Taft four years earlier.
Both major parties feared him, but the Progressives of the day—Felix Frankfurter, Walter Lippmann, Learned Hand—thought he was a demigod. “TR bit me and I went mad,” William Allen White said, speaking for a generation of intellectuals.
That night at Madison Square Garden was TR’s first public appearance after having been wounded in an assassination attempt. Everyone went mad. It was one of his greatest moments. Politics never seemed quite so innocent after that. I’d like to know if I would have gone a little mad too.