Theodore Roosevelt radiated a sense of noblesse oblige in his politics, viewing political calculation solely in terms of “Righteousness.” Righteousness might sound abstract, obscure, perhaps even outdated, to the ear, but to Roosevelt it had a precise definition. To Roosevelt, Righteousness implied that the morally right would conquer the wrong. It was his unshakeable conviction that righteousness would win the day that afforded Roosevelt a supreme confidence in his vision for a great American future. His political vision was simple, and for its simplicity and Righteousness, his vision was appealing.
Faith that the morally right will master the woeful and wrong seems to have dissipated in our current political landscape; Roosevelt’s call for Righteousness has gone silent. In the politics of our time, too many of our leaders no longer remain unshakeable in their convictions but rather quiver on the fence amidst public opinion data. As the 2018 mid-term and other local elections loom in the foreseeable future, the Democratic Party seems lost amidst political calculation characterized by numbers, data, and expediency. Uncertainty blinds the Democratic Party as it confronts questions about its identity, and the Party is bashful about public debate, anxious that internal turmoil will cause external ramifications. But, this existential uncertainty is fertile grounds for a Rooseveltian renewal.
Democratic trepidation towards disagreement is understanding following the 2016 Presidential primaries, but it should not be paralyzing – disagreement is essential to democracy, especially disagreement over what is right. Disagreement may spark uncertainty, but it is this uncertainty that permits political leaders to confront problems and confer solutions. Disagreement amended Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act from a law that would breed economic stagnation into a program that fostered affluence and productivity. And, to a greater extent, substantial disagreement has navigated the United States past former political, social, and economic injustices towards a pursuit of charity towards all. In all these instances, Righteousness could be defined as the Party’s guiding light.
It is essential to realize that neither the Democratic Party’s progressive wing nor moderate wing has a professed, divine monopoly over truth. The Democratic Party rightfully pursues a duty towards fitting and just ends: an economy that works for all Americans; access to affordable and quality healthcare; the protection of American civil rights and liberties; and the promotion of human dignity. While these goals are morally advisable and should be fought for with vigor, defining the means to pursue these definitive ends requires determined and vigorous debate.
With conviction, Democratic leaders should stand strongly by the principles drawn by the Party’s platform; a platform that succinctly broken down embodies Abraham Lincoln’s sacrosanct words, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Then, with an unabashed belief in what is right, Democrats can debate and disagree upon the methods to pursue their all-encompassing aims, and this disagreement will build the party up as opposed to tear it down. The task of reconciling fundamental differences and disagreements is not easy; Theodore Roosevelt failed to do so himself as his Republican Party’s progressive and moderate wings clashed and faltered. However, with supreme confidence and courage in the Party’s principles, with a firm sense of Righteousness, Democrats can ensure that right, once again, outclasses wrong.