Max Boot’s argument that conservatives should embrace TR despite his progressivism because his proposals to increase government “were pretty limited by comparison with what we have today” and “that all but the most extreme libertarians have come to terms with the New Deal” is nonsensical. TR’s economic vision was arguably the most socialistic of any American president, ever, and it is those parts of the New Deal that even moderate conservatives continue to condemn (or that failed) that had the most in common with TR’s progressivism. The remnants of the New Deal that most conservatives have come to accept (albeit reluctantly) comprise the social safety net and an alphabet soup of agencies.
TR believed that government ownership of key resources, such as timberland, was necessary to ensure an economically viable natural resource base. Private ownership, he believed, would leave the American economy without wood, whereas government planners would maintain the national timber supply. No one makes such ridiculous claims today, nor does anyone seriously defend farm programs and the like on economic grounds. Further, TR’s favorite regulatory agency — the Interstate Commerce Commission, was abolished in 1995.
Looking at another aspect of TR’s economic vision for which he is particularly well known — “trustbusting” — TR is even harder to defend as a “conservative.” TR’s populist vision of antitrust has been completely repudiated, and not just by conservatives. Antitrust law today is focused on maximizing consumer welfare, not exorcising the economy of evil “trusts.” Courts have completely rejected the TR approach, in favor of that first articulated by then-Judge William Howard Taft and elaborated by the likes of Richard Posner and Robert Bork.
I understand (although do not sympathize with) Boot’s desire to embrace TR for his foreign policy vision, but we should not pretend there was much of anything about TR’s domestic policy views that could be considered “conservative.”