Roosevelt was appreciative of Carnegie’s donation, but was little impressed with the man and his means of attaining wealth. Roosevelt wrote in a letter to a colleague: “[I have] tried hard to like Carnegie, but it is pretty difficult. There is no type of man for whom I feel a more contemptuous abhorrence than for the one who makes a God of mere money-making.” He continued his criticism of Carnegie by comparing the industrialist’s support of international peace with his own lack of seeming care to injustices in his own mills: “All the suffering from Spanish war comes far short of the suffering, preventable and non-preventable, among the operators of the Carnegie steel works, and among the small investors, during the time that Carnegie was making his fortune… Unrighteous war is a hideous evil; but I am not at all sure that it is worse evil than business unrighteousness.”
In Carnegie’s company, Roosevelt found little to applaud and mimic. He took him up on his philanthropic offers, but he didn't find much of value in appropriating Carnegie’s business methods into government. He understood simply that Carnegie was giving back to the very people who had helped him amass his wealth: the American people whose labor, wages, investments, and laws facilitated Carnegie’s concentrated wealth. From this perspective, there was little need for the president of the United States to genuflect at the philanthropist’s alter.
By contrast, there is plenty of genuflecting by the federal government in the contemporary model of philanthropy-government partnership. During the Obama administration, the White House has established an Office of Social Innovation tasked with giving “social entrepreneurs and other nonprofit leaders a greater voice in the public policy debates of the day by being part of the White House domestic and economic policymaking processes.” The White House has since hosted several conferences on non-profits and philanthropy.
Not only is the White House doing the pursuing by coordinating and hosting these events, but it is also praising philanthropy and holding in high regard its private sector modes of doing business. In explaining the reasons for establishing a White House Office of Social Innovation, for example, the First Lady Michelle Obama said back in 2009: “By focusing on high-impact, results-oriented nonprofits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable, and worthy of the public trust.” The White House is using the language and modus operandi of its subject of admiration: the private sector’s top echelon.
This courting and acclaiming of the private sector was echoed in the White House’s Conference on Next Generation Philanthropy this past March. Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson reported in The New York Times that one administration official kicked off “the day on an inspirational note to embrace the White House as a partner and catalyst for putting their personal idealism into practice.” Unlike Andrew Carnegie’s wooing of Theodore Roosevelt in establishing the Carnegie Institution, the White House in this recent example was the very one doing the pursuing. Another guest, Claudio Ochoa, provided a similar picture. Founder of an organization with the stated mission of representing high-profile founders and entrepreneurs to “maximize impact on a large scale and in innovative ways,” Ochoa remembered that the purpose of the conference was to “engage the next generation of young philanthropists over issues that are important to the future of our country.” In other words, the White House tried to engage the attention of these present and future philanthropists, and in the process, inspire them to grant funds towards private-public partnerships. The Obama White House put itself in the position of seducing the interest, passion, and compassion of its audience and these future philanthropists seemed to have sat back and listened, waiting for an emotion or a thought to draw them in.