Batman vs. Teddy Roosevelt

How to Be Super Powerful

Batman is my favorite fictional character; Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite non-fictional character.

Let’s pit them head-to-head!

Who’s more powerful?

Power: the ability to influence the course of events.

My little cousin would say Batman, but let’s compare.

Before Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States, or even Governor of New York, he was in 1895 the New York City Police Commissioner.

He was commissioner at a time when the city lacked traffic lights, trains spewed coal overhead, top-hatted tycoons strutted along Fifth Avenue while immigrants slept in overcrowded tenements and armies of beggars and hookers took to the streets, late at night, with busy hands.

We’ll focus on Mr. Roosevelt’s time as New York City Police Commissioner because this is when he and Batman shared the same location (Gotham City is based on N.Y.C.) and goal: stopping crime.

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” -T.R.

We could even imagine a young Bruce Wayne looking up to Teddy Roosevelt because of their remarkably similar lives.

Christopher Nolan partially based his version of Batman on Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was born to wealth, worshiped his father, lost both his parents at a young age, disappeared for several years to remake himself (in the Montana badlands) and directed his grief into a force for good.

To determine who’s more powerful we therefore have to ask, “Who was more effective at achieving their goal of stopping crime?”

Batman stopped the Joker…

He stopped Bane…

And he stopped a host of other hoodlums, but to me it seemed like a fruitless exercise, because whenever he put someone behind bars someone else would inevitably break out.

This is because Gotham, like N.Y.C., had a systemic problem: corruption.

Bruce Wayne’s solution was to work outside the corrupt system, but Teddy Roosevelt’s solution was to work within it.

Like Batman, Teddy Roosevelt would take to the streets late at night in search of any wrongdoing.

Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster. -TR

But unlike Batman, Teddy Roosevelt focused on hunting down police officers slacking on the job or abusing their power.

Cops were known for shaking down pimps for large payoffs, and before the Mafia came into the city, it was the police captains who organized crime in their districts.

Mr. Roosevelt’s equal enforcement of the laws for civilians and cops shook up the establishment.

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far. — T.R.

Amongst his reforms, Roosevelt created the first police academy, appointed recruits based on physical and mental qualifications rather than party, and established Merit-Based Service Medals.

He also put telephones in police stations.

Police Officer #1: “To the Teddy signal!”
Police Officer #2: “Or we could just call him?”
“For the first time a moral purpose came into the street. In the light of it everything was transformed.“— Jacob Ris famous author of “How the Other Half Lives” talking about T.R.

Teddy Roosevelt was only police commissioner for 2 years before he moved to Washington D.C. so it’s hard to determine his success, but he did, much like Batman, become a symbol that lasted well beyond his tenor.

And he rode his symbol as a reformer all the way to the White House.

“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne.” — Batman Begins

In the end…

When Batman retired in the Dark Knight Rises he left behind an inspiring legacy, but he also left behind chaos.

There was a prison break during the city lockdown, which means all the criminals that Batman put behind bars in the previous two movies are now back on the streets, including the Joker.

With the bridges destroyed, financial center in ruins, government in shambles, and the police force seemingly as corrupt as ever… this is when Batman retires?!

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. — T.R.

Maybe Bruce Wayne recognized that as long as Batman existed so would a degree of lawlessness because how can the police lock up someone for assault while turning a blind eye to any guy dressed as a Bat committing assault on innocent civilians (innocent in the eyes of the law)?

This is the KEY difference between Batman and Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy Roosevelt upheld the law to the T.

There was a law on the books that said bars must close on Sunday, but it was unpopular because it was the one day most New Yorkers had off from work.

Previously the law was selectively enforced. The bars that paid off the cops got to stay open. Teddy Roosevelt saw the corruption this created so he enforced the law for everyone.

Voters didn’t like this so they showed their anger in the subsequent city-wide elections where his republican party lost seats.

But Teddy Roosevelt eventually gained back support during a hot summer when he had his officers hand out ice to those in need. People may have disagreed with the law, but they trusted his fair enforcement of it.

Mr. Roosevelt’s argument was simple: if you don’t like the law change it. It shouldn’t be a radical notion that all laws should be enforced.

But unfortunately politicians are always passing well-intentioned laws, like the Sunday law. Any one of these laws may sound good on paper, but who do you think increased legal complexity benefits? It benefits those who can afford the armies of lawyers and lobbyists to navigate it. It also benefits the tyrant who can then pick and choose what laws to enforce based upon what’s politically expedient.

Personally, I think you can tell the level of corruption in a country, or even an individual, by how they uphold traffic laws. If stop signs aren’t enforced on traffic it’s unlikely to be enforced on business and if one is willing to cut you off on the road then one is likely to cut you off in life! It’s these small lapses in character, which corrode the character.

We need vigilance so that we don’t come to rely on vigilantes!

By the time Mr. Roosevelt left office he improved the ethos of the New York City Police Department.

So in the end Teddy Roosevelt is more powerful than Batman because institutional power is more powerful than a superpower.

Teddy Roosevelt strengthened the law and the institution that enforced it, which means his power is still felt today in the way a superpower cannot be felt because a superpower dies with the superhero.

“A hero can be anyone, even a man doing something as simple as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulder to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” — Batman, the Dark Knight Rises

So I think if Bruce Wayne really wanted to stop crime in Gotham he would come out of the cave, and then use his money and expertise to strengthen the law so that eventually the city could function without the Batman.

But let’s be honest, sometimes in life we all have to don the cap.


Thanks for reading! Anthony Galli writes about the great men and women who made history so that we may make history in our own time. Watch his series @ The Great Life.