Gov. Brian Schweitzer makes no bones about the fact that his “Square Deal” has deep roots in century-old Republican politics.
“Lifted it straight from my pal Teddy,” says Schweitzer, referring to Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. “Teddy understood what a square deal was. A square deal meant everybody gets a fair shake. Not just those with the most money. Not just those who can afford lobbyists.”
Over the course of the last four months Schweitzer has been unveiling bits and pieces of his “Square Deal with Montanans,” which thus far includes a $50 million boost to the Montana university system to hold tuition at current levels; a $400 rebate to every Montana homeowner at a cost of $100 million; suspension of a water tax and an outlay of $15 million to acquire more state parks and fishing access sites (all of which would require legislative approval).
With his “square deal,” Schweitzer has found a way to package his policy proposals in a brand evoking a popular populist Republican. Nearly 100 years ago Roosevelt billed his progressive economic and regulatory policies as his square deal, a fair shake for the average citizen. In his 1919 book Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography, biographer William Roscoe Thayer wrote: “That phrase, ‘a square deal,’ stuck in the hearts of the American people. It summed up what they regarded as Roosevelt’s most characteristic trait. He was the man of the square deal, who instinctively resented injustice done to those who could not protect themselves; the friend of the underdog, the companion of the self-reliant and the self-respecting.”
Roosevelt’s square deal policies pulled the Republican Party to the left and eventually he split from the GOP to form the progressive “Bull Moose” Party in 1912. Schweitzer, a so-called blue governor of an ostensibly red state, reminds us that history sometimes repeats itself. At least he’d like it to.
“There are sometimes realignments in parties,” Schweitzer says. “[Roosevelt] realigned his party in the early 1900s and who knows, maybe we’re realigning this party in the early 2000s.”