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Robert Haugen, Published October 31 2010

What would Teddy Roosevelt say?

This past summer, I took my girlfriend and her 10-year-old daughter to the Black Hills of South Dakota for a vacation. Neither of them had been there before. For me, it had been over 25 years since my eyes were exposed to the sights and splendors of one of our many great natural playgrounds and its wonderful national and state parks.

On the way home, I asked the child what her favorite things we did were and what she learned most. What she said actually kind of surprised me. Like any 10-year-old, she loved anything that involved animals, such as Bear Country USA and the Reptile Gardens; the mammoth excavation site was really cool, as was Wind Cave National Park.

Anyone would expect a 10-year-old to be fascinated with those, but it was the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore – something all Americans should take in. It was there where they showed a documentary of why each of the four presidents was chosen that she learned the most. When I asked her why, this is what she said to me:

“I learned about Mount Rushmore in fourth grade last year, and I knew why George Washington was there, I knew why Thomas Jefferson was there, I knew why Abraham Lincoln was there, and I knew we had a national park here in North Dakota named after Theodore Roosevelt, but until now, I didn’t know why they put him up there with the other famous guys, but I don’t wonder anymore.” I asked her why, and she responded, “He had the foresight way back then so kids like me can enjoy our national treasures the way he did and for people that didn’t have a lot.”

Most of us in North Dakota know Teddy Roosevelt was a rugged individualist, a leader of the Rough Riders on San Juan Hill, a cattle rancher in the Badlands, and the 26th president of the United States, for which we have the honor of having the only national park in the state named after.

Roosevelt was much more than that. He was leader of the Progressive Movement, founding the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party of 1912, which carried a health insurance plank in its platform and stood for women’s rights. He was a staunch naturalist and avid outdoorsman who strongly supported conservation. He essentially put the word “conserve” into conservatism.

He also reached across the aisle and worked with both Republican and Democratic opponents – much like one of our more recent great presidents, Ronald Reagan.

It’s funny (or should I say sad) how things change over time. What’s really pathetic is that Roosevelt and Reagan would not fit in today’s Republican Party.

Putting oil wells around our national parks to pay for Social Security? Why don’t we just knock the faces off Mount Rushmore so we can get at more Black Hills gold? Heck, with today’s gold prices, that would really help finance Social Security, now wouldn’t it?

What is really sad is how U.S. House candidate Rick Berg, a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Foundation, wants to disgrace our 26th president and the lands and resources he worked so hard to preserve for future generations. And now he wants to represent us at the federal level? Isn’t that like trusting BP to clean up the Gulf of Mexico?

Rick, just what would Teddy say?