Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Presidents and dissent

From Candice Millard's River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey:
When [Roosevelt's] train pulled into Chile's capital, Santiago, in late November [1913], he was greeted by a crowd that at first seemed to mirror the friendly masses that had welcomed him to Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. But the moment he leapt from his Pullman to the train-station floor, with the triumphal strains of the American and Chilean national anthems echoing around him, his welcoming party suddenly transformed into an angry protest rally. "The human multitude, showing marked hostility, shouted with all their might vivas!--to Mexico and Colombia, and Down with the Yankee Imperialism!" a journalist for Lima's West Coast Leader excitedly reported.

The Chilean government went to great lengths to shield Roosevelt from the demonstrations, even buying and destroying newspapers that covered anti-Roosevelt rallies, but their guest had no desire to hide from any assult on himself or his country. On the contrary, he took every opportunity to face down his attackers, ready to explain in no uncertain terms why he was right and they were wrong. At a state reception welcoming him to Chile, he vigorously debated Marchial Martinez, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States, about the continuted relevance of the Monroe Doctrine. Days later, in an electrifiying speech, he gave an impassioned, utterly unapologetic defense of the Panama Canal.

And that was when Roosevelt was a private citizen, no longer president. Not quite the same as George Bush's scripted press conferences and talks before hand-picked, pre-screened audiences.

This passage also reminds us that not much has changed: an American president could today go to South America and hear that same chant, and he'd still deserve it.

No comments:

Post a Comment