Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bully Pulpit

It's not every day that you get to watch a long-dead historical figure live on stage, animatedly delivering the most famous stories about his life, but that's the experience I had tonight at the Teddy Roosevelt Show.

I'll bet TR was a Cubs fan, too.Politico-turned-performer Joe Wiegand is currently touring the country to honor Roosevelt's 150th birthday. He spent nearly two hours telling stories in character as TR and the effect was mesmerizing. You can watch the sample video to get the idea, but he looked a lot more like Roosevelt in person than he does in this video. As a history minor in another life, I found Wiegand's show to be a phenomenal way to present historical material in an engaging and memorable fashion. Best of all, I learned quite a few facts about TR tonight that I'm not likely to forget any time soon:

1. He was the first president to ride in a submarine.
2. He was the first president to ride in an airplane.

3. He oversaw major renovations of the White House and the creation of the West Wing.

4. He was elected by president by the largest margin of popular votes and the largest margin of electoral votes in history.

5. In an early 20th century version of the type of headline-making tabloid dirt that presidents and candidates have to deal with today, Roosevelt often had to answer for the actions of his 20-year-old daughter Alice, who was frequently cavorted with a variety of men, drank cocktails in public and was rumored to be carrying a snake in her purse.

6. Teddy was once scheduled to deliver a speech in Chicago when a would-be assassin shot him in the chest at close range. Roosevelt was saved because the bullet ripped through the 60-page speech and metal glasses case in his front breast pocket. Even though the bullet was lodged dangerously close to his heart, he decided that the speech must go on (he was in the midst of a hotly contested '08-style race for the presidential nomination) and he spoke passionately for 80 minutes before going to the hospital for treatment. I'm trying to picture any of today's candidates doing that and for some reason I just can't.
The show left me with a new admiration for Roosevelt, the way he lived his life and the way he conducted himself as a public servant. It's difficult for me to relate to historical figures whose existence is validated only by photos in textbooks and likenesses on currency. I can't wrap my mind around the fact that they were at one time imperfect humans with actual problems, conflicts and foibles. The show brought Teddy back down to Earth for me, fleshing him out literally and figuratively.

That said, I believe Roosevelt would stand a pretty good chance in the 2008 elections and I wish he were still around to claim my vote. Still not convinced? Here are Mental Floss' top 10 reasons why TR was the coolest president ever. Sorry, Huckabee, I think Chuck Norris would have voted for Teddy, too...

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