Beyond the Bully Pulpit
Theodore Roosevelt famously used the “bully pulpit” of the White House to advance his agenda. By the time he left office, “spin” had become a fundamental part of the American presidency.
When President William McKinley led the United States to war against Spain in the spring of 1898, no one was keener to see battle than Theodore Roosevelt. Scion of an upper-crust New York City family and a Harvard graduate, the ambitious, brash assistant Navy secretary had, at 39, already built a reputation for reformist zeal as a New York state assemblyman and as Gotham’s police commissioner. Lately, from his perch in the Navy Department, he had been planning—and agitating—for an all-out confrontation with the dying Spanish Empire. In his official role, he drew up schemes for deploying the U.S. fleet, which he had done much to strengthen. Privately, he mocked the president he served, who, to the exasperation of TR and his fellow war hawks, had been temporizing about military action. “McKinley has no more backbone than a chocolate éclair,” Roosevelt told his friend Henry Cabot Lodge, then the junior Republican senator from Massachusetts.
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David Greenberg, currently a Woodrow Wilson Center fellow, is a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. The author of numerous books and articles about political history, both scholarly and popular, he is writing a history of U.S. presidents and spin.more from this author >>