Fact Check

Theodore Roosevelt and Sarah Palin

List presents similarities between Theodore Roosevelt and Sarah Palin.

Published Sep 19, 2008

Claim:   List presents similarities between Theodore Roosevelt and Sarah Palin.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, September 2008]

This is from the Wall Street Journal:

Who Am I?

I am under 45 years old,
I love the outdoors,
I hunt,
I am a Republican reformer,
I have taken on the Republican Party establishment,
I have many children,
I have a spot on the national ticket as vice president with less than two years in the governor's office.

Did you guess?

I am Teddy Roosevelt in 1900.

Origins:   This item is an example of the common "blind comparison" feature in which the reader is presented with a list of qualities that seemingly describe a contemporary figure, only to be informed at the end of the

piece that the person referenced is actually a well-known historical personage — the point being to create a favorable (or unfavorable, as the case may be) comparison between the contemporary figure and the historical one.

In this case the obvious comparison is between former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt and Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican nominee for vice-president. (The mention of the Wall Street Journal appears to be a reference to a reader's comment submitted in response to an editorial in that publication about John McCain's selection of Governor Palin as his running mate.) But is it an accurate comparison? That question has been answered two different ways.

In a strict literal sense, the comparison could fairly be considered accurate. Both Theodore Roosevelt and Sarah Palin were in their second years as governors of states (New York and Alaska, respectively) when they were nominated as Republican candidates for the vice-presidency. Both Roosevelt (41) and Palin (44) were under 45 years old when they were so nominated, and both had five children by their current spouses at the time. (Roosevelt had six children altogether, the oldest born of his first wife, who died two days after giving birth.) Both enjoyed the outdoors and hunting as recreational activities. Both have been described as "reformers" who "took on the establishment" (although those labels are somewhat subjective).

The opposite train of thought is that this comparison belongs in the "technically true but intentionally misleading" category, simply presenting a few superficial similarities between the two figures while ignoring their substantial differences, particularly in the areas of background and experience:

Academic Background:

Theodore Roosevelt: Bachelor of arts degree (cum laude) in history and government from Harvard College (1880). Attended Columbia Law School (1880-82). Author of numerous works on history and politics, including The Naval War of 1812 (required reading at the U.S. Naval Academy), Life of Thomas Hart Benton, Life of Gouverneur Morris, Essays in Practical Politics, The Winning of the West (four volumes), History of New York, Hero Tales from American History, American Ideals, and The Rough Riders.

Sarah Palin: Bachelor of science degree in communications-journalism from the University of Idaho (1987).

Law Enforcement/Military Experience:

Theodore Roosevelt: Deputy sheriff in the Dakota Territory, police commissioner of New York City, captain in the New York National Guard, colonel with the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, veteran of the Spanish-American War.

Sarah Palin: None.

Political Experience:

Theodore Roosevelt: Member of New York state assembly, U.S. civil service commissioner, New York City police commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, governor of New York.

Sara Palin: City council member and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska; governor of Alaska.

As is often the case, which answer is considered the more "correct" is likely to be the one most aligned with the reader's political ideology.

Last updated:   14 September 2008


David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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