Recently many people have been posting quotes by Teddy Roosevelt. It sounds like an amazing quote put forth by a true statesman (which I believe Teddy Roosevelt was.) Perhaps you have seen it too? Here it is:
"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth—whether about the President or about anyone else—save in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him."
From “Lincoln and Free Speech” (Metropolitan Magazine: May 1918) by Theodore Roosevelt
Wow. What a statement to be made by a President!
It's as if he is demanding the country hold him to a higher standard. He even calls the public out as "unpatriotic" if they are not brave enough to hold him accountable. My God, this is the type of leader we yearn for today. Brave, honest and fiercely devoted to principles! How different it is from the politicians we get today who are as milk toast in their convictions and who rely upon polls and special interest groups to form the backbone of their political platforms and to fund their political aspirations.
Neither party today produces this type of statesmanship. A Teddy Roosevelt today is more rare than any current definition of a "political unicorn". But... is it true? We are led to believe certain things are true based, in a large part, to media's ability to exploit basic lapses in knowledge. Was Roosevelt's statement important and inspirational? For a sitting President to have said that would be incredible!
Guess what? It is a myth.
Roosevelt did say it, but he was not President. Woodrow Wilson was President and Teddy Roosevelt was calling on the American people to open their eyes. The statement isn't quite as impactful when viewed in its full historical context.
What about other things we believe are true? What about Rosa Parks for instance?
I was taught in school to believe hers was a random act of a frustrated woman of color who had simply "had enough" and wasn't going to take it anymore. I was taught this spontaneous act ignited a movement which changed America. That's what I was taught and led to believe.
Guess what? It that's a myth too!
Most folks don't know Rosa attended and was trained at "The Highlander Folk School" in Monteagle, Tennessee. Most folks don't know her tuition to the school was funded by labor activists. Most do not know that four months prior to her refusal to move on a bus; she was being schooled at the Highlander Folk School on how to stage the event. Most folks do not know that Rosa Parks was not the intended first choice for the protest. The first choice was determined to be "too black" to be a sympathetic face for the protest. It was a well orchestrated media event.
This does not diminish what Rosa Parks did. It was still an act of bravery most of us would not attempt to emulate today.
But it does make things different when we view the words and actions of our heroes in their correct social and historical context. Teddy really didn't say to oppose him as a sitting President and Rosa wasn't an innocent nobody who just decided to stand up for herself.
We have to not be so afraid of tarnishing our heroes that we do not look at them with honest and critical eyes.
America will not last another 200 years if we allow ourselves to become a nation with clay feet.
We are all human and will all fall short of perfection. That does not mean we should not celebrate unusual acts of political courage when we see them but we must be cautious not to elevate mere mortals to the status of gods, either.