What would Theodore Roosevelt do?

sci-fi-president-teddy-rooseveltHas there ever been an American President more like Batman than Theodore Roosevelt? He was an old money aristocrat who fought crime and corruption wherever it was found. He overcame asthma as a youth, studied history and biology, boxed, hunted, was a rancher and lawman out on the frontier, a police commissioner for New York/Gotham City and formed and led the Rough Riders (his Justice League/Outsiders) in the Spanish-American War. Then he became President after McKinley was killed, making him the youngest President ever. His presidency was marked by trust busting, the start of the conservation movement, the start of construction on the Panama Canal, the Great White Fleet’s tour around the world and the negotiated end to the Russo-Japanese War (which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize). And he still had time to play tennis, jujitsu and invented a sport that just involved hitting someone with a big stick until they gave up.

And he was tough. If Deadliest Warrior  can be believed, he could totally kick Lawrence of Arabia‘s ass. He once got shot giving a speech in Milwaukee and instead of being a wimp and going to a hospital, he just gave his would-be assassin a disapproving look and continued to speak for almost an hour. If he was bored he would shame American soldiers by out-riding them and when he “retired” from the presidency, he didn’t go on the lecture circuit or build a library, he went big-game hunting in Africa where he seriously considered a proposal to seize Congo from Belgium.

Okay, some might be wondering what Theodore Roosevelt has to do on a SF site. Well there is no denying that the Internet loves Roosevelt almost as much as Tesla (who was a contemporary of the president). Roosevelt administered our country at a time when the world was making a transition from the steampunk era to dieselpunk. The Wright Brothers made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, only 66 years before Armstrong walked on the Moon, which means there were people who were alive for both events. Roosevelt is a man who went for strolls with H.G Wells and sought advice from Mark Twain. He was as much of a scholar as he was a fighter, devouring books and learning about a wide variety of subjects just to satisfy his natural curiosity.

His sharp mind could be prophetic at times, predicting an eventual war with Japan (even going as far as saying it would begin with a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor) to kickstarting the conservation movement out of fear that future generations would not be able to benefit from America’s rich, natural landscape (which seems a more real fear in this era of global warming, peak oil, famine and clean water shortages). Some point out that his views on race were far from modern, but he still dined at the White House with Booker T. Washington, spoke out against against lynchings and when a southern town drove out their black postmaster for having the gall to make a good salary, Roosevelt shut down their post office and told the town that until they let her back in they could take the thirty mile trek over to the next town to pick up their mail.

In many ways Roosevelt was ahead of his time, but not in the way some historical persons are not recognized for their greatness. Even Roosevelt’s enemies wouldn’t deny his power and accomplishments, and that is one of the reasons why he is such a fixture of SF. Hugo-award winning author Mike Resnick wrote a series of short stories about Roosevelt, which were collected in The Other Teddy Roosevelts. Among other things, Resnick had Teddy fight Martians, vampires and Jack the Ripper. Speaking of Martians, Roosevelt also appears in the animated film War of the Worlds: Goliath where he leads a multi-national force created to fight the Martian menace and even goes hand-to-hand with invaders (as he would, screw giant walking mecha).

As can be expected, such a person of historical importance inspires a lot of alternate history. A lot of thought when into what if he had been elected in 1912 as a “Bull Moose” Progressive, including award-winning author Kim Newman who began his co-authored Back in the USSA by having Roosevelt elected and later assassinated, thus kicking off a communist revolution in America. I’m surprised more authors haven’t had him reelected in 1908 for a third term considering his immense popularity with the people and the well-documented attempts by Republican operatives to get him to run. He would have won, but have been more left-leaning and desiring more executive power, but dealing with an obstinate Congress. Some fertile ground there for an alternate historian…

Yet the penultimate Roosevelt alternate history is being President of a rump United States where the Confederacy won its independence and leading the nation in war against the secessionists. The most famous example is from the “Master of Alternate History” Harry Turtledove‘s Southern Victory (or Timeline-191) series where Roosevelt has the USA side with the Central Powers in World War I against the CSA and the Entente. Nevertheless, plausibility hounds point that the chance of Roosevelt having the same opportunities he did in our time line are slim as, for one thing, he would likely not fight in Cuba against the Spanish and gain the national fame that propelled him to the White House. Plus his southern ancestry (his mother was from Georgia) might be a liability if he were to still run for national office…but perhaps such a discussion is for another day.

President Theodore Roosevelt was a character out of science fiction who found himself stuck in the real world and made the best of it. Perhaps out of all the men and women born in the 19th century, he would probably be the most at home here. The ever-changing cultures, the advancing technology and social ills would not scare him, but excite him, as he charged into the fray and wrestled them down one by one. Just think what he would do to any troll who dared to leave a negative comment on one of his posts! Not to get too political, but we need more people like Roosevelt leading not just my country, but the entire world.

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