Study Guide

The Man with the Muckrake Quotes

By Theodore Roosevelt

  • Good vs. Evil

    The material problems that face us today are not such as they were in Washington's time, but the underlying facts of human nature are the same now as they were then. Under altered external form we war with the same tendencies toward evil that were evident in Washington's time, and are helped by the same tendencies for good. (5)

    This line implies that morality ultimately doesn't change over the years, which is a bit of a contentious point. For example, many things that we consider right today were incredibly taboo decades ago.

    The fool who has not sense to discriminate between what is good and what is bad is well nigh as dangerous as the man who does discriminate and yet chooses the bad. (41)

    TR's saying that America needs a lesson in morality; that the character of Joe Q. Public needs a boost.

    If the whole picture is painted black there remains no hue whereby to single out the rascals for distinction from their fellows. Such painting finally induces a kind of moral color blindness; and people affected by it come to the conclusion that no man is really black, and no man really white, but they are all gray. (35-36)

    This quote piggybacks on his older statement that lies about a class of people prevents good people from wanting to enter that class, but also hammers home that TR sees morality in absolutes. Shades of gray are not allowed in Teddyland—fifty or otherwise.

    Expose the crime, and hunt down the criminal; but remember that even in the case of crime, if it is attacked in sensational, lurid, and untruthful fashion, the attack may do more damage to the public mind than the crime itself. (31)

    He's saying that, while there's no nuance in good and evil, there is nuance in how good and evil is done.

    So far as this movement of agitation throughout the country takes the form of a fierce discontent with evil, of a determination to punish the authors of evil, whether in industry or politics, the feeling is to be heartily welcomed as a sign of healthy life. (56)

    Disgust with evil is only useful if evil's fought afterwards. Even moralizing only is validated by action, not just words.

  • Lies and Deceit

    The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth. (17-18)

    In this sentence, TR isn't only saying that lying and thieving are similarly bad, but they're also similar acts: to publicly slander an honest man is to steal his good name.

    An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed. (19-20)

    In this quote, Roosevelt introduces an idea he'll build on throughout the speech: the atmosphere of lies, which he says journalists have a hand in creating.

    Expose the crime, and hunt down the criminal; but remember that even in the case of crime, if it is attacked in sensational, lurid, and untruthful fashion, the attack may do more damage to the public mind than the crime itself. (31)

    You can't fight fire with fire with liars. Then everyone's pants will be burning.

    The first requisite in the public servants who are to deal in this shape with corporations, whether as legislators or as executives, is honesty. (73)

    If honesty is the most valued trait in a private citizen, then it is definitely the most valued trait in a public servant, aka a lawyer.

    If a public man is willing to yield to popular clamor and do wrong to the men of wealth or to rich corporations, it may be set down as certain that if the opportunity comes he will secretly and furtively do wrong to the public in the interest of a corporation. (80)

    This quote doesn't seem to jibe. He's implying that a dishonest lawyer would swing one way or the other depending on what benefited him the most, but the man looking to fill his own pockets would side with the corporation 10 times out of 10 for those sweet corporate dollars. Not many lawyers looking out for themselves would become a public defendant, right?

  • Society and Class

    We now administer the affairs of a nation in which the extraordinary growth of population has been outstripped by the growth of wealth in complex interests. (4)

    Right up front, Roosevelt addresses the elephant in the room: there's not enough money for everyone, and the huge boom of money is tied up in "complex interests": aka businesses and Wall Street.

    If, on the other hand, it turns into a mere crusade of appetite against appetite, of a contest between the brutal greed of the "have nots" and the brutal greed of the "haves," then it has no significance for good, but only for evil. (57)

    Teddy's equating the greed of the wealthy to the greed of the poor, which is kind of apples and oranges. Wanting enough money to buy a new vacation home is not the same kind of want as wanting enough money to actually have a home.

    If it seeks to establish a line of cleavage, not along the line which divides good men from bad, but along that other line, running at right angles thereto, which divides those who are well off from those who are less well off, then it will be fraught with immeasurable harm to the body politic. (58)

    Roosevelt thinks that there can and should be a cross-class alliance, where people on both sides can agree on what's best for the country. It's kind of a utopic thought.

    The wealthy man who exults because there is a failure of justice in the effort to bring some trust magnate to account for his misdeeds is as bad as, and no worse than, the so-called labor leader who clamorously strives to excite a foul class feeling on behalf of some other labor leader who is implicated in murder. (60)

    Being implicated in murder is a common theme in those convicted for violent acts like the Haymarket Bombing. If the real culprit couldn't be found, then what's called "conspiracy laws" went into effect. Basically it boils down to the police finally getting an excuse to wipe the biggest leftist players off the board, on the assumption that they had a deep secret conspiracy to commit the crime.

    One attitude is as bad as the other, and no worse; in each case the accused is entitled to exact justice; and in neither case is there need of action by others which can be construed into an expression of sympathy for crime. (61)

    For TR, someone's crime is never justified by their conditions. A crime is a crime and all crimes should be treated equally. More Javert, and less Valjean.

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