Obama decides to channel the populist Teddy Roosevelt in 2012 campaign

It wasn’t billed as a campaign stop, but, today, in Osawatomie, Kansas, President Obama delivered a fiery, progressive speech that seems calculated to define the 2012 campaign… and shift focus away from the fact that no significant job creation has taken place under his watch. The speech, for those of you who haven’t already heard, was delivered is Osawatomie because that’s where, in 1910, Republican Teddy Roosevelt unveiled his New Nationalism doctrine, ushering in the progressive era. Here’s a clip from the transcript:

…Today, we’re still home to the world’s most productive workers. We’re still home to the world’s most innovative companies. But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments — wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t — and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.

Now, for many years, credit cards and home equity loans papered over this harsh reality. But in 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We all know the story by now: Mortgages sold to people who couldn’t afford them, or even sometimes understand them. Banks and investors allowed to keep packaging the risk and selling it off. Huge bets — and huge bonuses — made with other people’s money on the line. Regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this, but looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to look at all.

It was wrong. It combined the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility all across the system. And it plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we’re still fighting to recover. It claimed the jobs and the homes and the basic security of millions of people — innocent, hardworking Americans who had met their responsibilities but were still left holding the bag.

And ever since, there’s been a raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity, restore balance, restore fairness. Throughout the country, it’s sparked protests and political movements — from the tea party to the people who’ve been occupying the streets of New York and other cities. It’s left Washington in a near-constant state of gridlock. It’s been the topic of heated and sometimes colorful discussion among the men and women running for president. (Laughter.)

But, Osawatomie, this is not just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what’s at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement…

I think it was a brilliant speech, but I’ve heard Obama give brilliant speeches before, only to be extremely disappointed by him later. But, maybe this time he really means it, right?

For what it’s worth, it would seem that the American people are in agreement with him on this. According to a poll I read yesterday, over 50% of Republican voters agreed with him that we should extend the middle class payroll tax cuts. If I’m not mistaken, a majority of those also felt that we should do so, even if it meant taxing the wealthiest Americans at the level they were being taxed before Bush’s “temporary” tax cuts passed several years ago. And, by invoking the Republican Roosevelt, he’s clearly trying to pull a few more of them into the fold. (And this might not be too difficult if the Republican party ends up giving the nomination to a corrupt sociopath like Newt Gingrich.) Here, with more on Obama’s decision to invoke Teddy Roosevelt, is a clip from CNN’s John Avlon.

…The irony that a Republican president defined the progressive era is not lost on Barack Obama. It’s an association he is courting directly in a bid to broaden the appeal of his 2012 agenda beyond partisan lines by rooting it in an older American tradition.

In his “New Nationalism” speech, TR backed policies that became the basis of his 1912 campaign, including the minimum wage, the eight-hour workday, women’s suffrage and the federal income tax. He supported early campaign finance laws, lobbyist registration and the creation of a federal securities commission.

Most of all, TR took aim at “the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics.” This remains a relevant concern in an age of multibillion-dollar Wall Street bailouts and Occupy protests…

Of course, Roosevelt didn’t win that election. Otherwise, I think the analogy is great.

And, with that, here’s video of today’s speech.

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  1. Posted December 7, 2011 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    From the New York Times:

    …Republicans, though, portrayed the visit as an effort by the president to paper over his failed stewardship of the national economy. Though unemployment levels dropped to 8.6 percent last month, they remain higher than the level at which any president has been re-elected since the Great Depression.

    Mitt Romney, one of the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, dismissed the president’s address. “I thought, ‘In what way is he like Teddy Roosevelt?’ ” Mr. Romney said. “Teddy Roosevelt founded the Bull Moose Party. One of those words applies when the president talks about how he’s helped the economy.”

    The trip was Mr. Obama’s third out of Washington in as many weeks to press for passage of the payroll tax break, which would reduce the how much employees pay for Social Security to 3.1 percent from the already reduced level of 4.2 percent. Under the Democratic proposal, which Republicans have blocked, the cut that would go to most working Americans would be offset in the budget by a 1. 9 percent surtax on those with modified adjusted gross incomes of more than $1 million. If Congress takes no action, the tax will revert back to 6.2 percent next month…

  2. dragon
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    I wanna get lost in your rock n roll.

    “It’s a simple theory — one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. It fits well on a bumper sticker. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work,” Obama said of supply-side economics, drawing extended applause. “It’s never worked.”

  3. Edward
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    “Did you ever get the feeling you’d been swindled?” -Sir Jonathan Rotten

    I want to believe this new Obama. The only problem is, I still remember the old Obama, who extended the Bush tax cuts, gave up on the public option, kept Gitmo open, and started assassinating people without trial.

  4. alan2102
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Mark: “I think it was a brilliant speech, but I’ve heard Obama give brilliant speeches before, only to be extremely disappointed by him later. But, maybe this time he really means it, right?”

    Please, Mark, tell me you’re kidding.

    How is it possible to take this transparent bullshit seriously for even 10 seconds?

    That little prick has sold the country down the river 16 ways from Christmas, for YEARS…. and then he waves a little left populistic crap in front of your face, and all of a sudden it is as though it never happened, and he’s basically a good progressive guy, and “maybe he really means it this time”?!?

    Jeezuz Christ.

    I swear, if Democrats are not the most deluded idiots imaginable, then they’re doing an Academy Award job of faking it. Or, perhaps they are too traumatized to be capable of intelligent judgement anymore. Like the chronically battered and bruised spouse who insists: “but she really loves me! Really! she DOES!”

  5. Mr. X
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I think that’s exactly what was being alluded to in that sentence, Alan. At least I felt my sarcasm sensor tingle a bit. Still, though, I do think it’s possible that “the real Obama”, if there is such a thing dwelling inside the politician, really would like to be more of a progressive. I don’t want to excuse his actions, but I think that, to some extent, he’s being a pragmatist. I think that he’s pushing things as far as he believes the American people will let him. In other words, I don’t think he killed the Public Option just because he was in bed with the pharmaceutical industry. I think he really felt that he couldn’t, given the realities of American politics, push for more at the time. And, as much as I think that he may want to fight, I think he’s painfully aware that, should he do so, he’d be setting himself up to be portrayed as an “angry black man”. Now, though, maybe the American people are ready to accept more regulation and oversight than they have in the recent past.

  6. alan2102
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    …. Having said that, I just want to make clear that I am not opposed to voting for Obama. For a center-right Republican who has been 100% complicit in the destruction of our country by fraudsters and thieves, he is a reasonably likeable guy, and not viscerally repugnant like e.g. Gingrich or Bachman. Surely we could do worse.

  7. alan2102
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Mr X: I agree that Obama is a pragmatist, pushing things as far as he believes the American people will let him. The American people would never tolerate e.g. the prosecution of the ripoff artists populating every major bank and financial company on Wall Street, guilty of criminal actions that have impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth. They simply WOULD NOT TOLERATE IT. So, Obama should be given a free pass. He is only doing the realistic thing, and any of us would do the same. He is an OK guy, basically, with strong progressive values at his core. Really! I can FEEL it!


  8. Mr. X
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I don’t disagree that the people behind the economic crash should be prosecuted. I think that his first objective, however, was to make sure that the country didn’t collapse into depression. Now, though, there’s no excuse for not going after them aggressively. I am in complete agreement with Taibbi and Spitzer on that. And I too will be pulling the lever for Obama with mixed emotions.

  9. alan2102
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The first objective was to prevent the fraudsters and thieves — the banking and financial sectors, generally — from collapsing into depression. Many $trillions in no-strings GIFTS to that sector were essential for that purpose. As for preventing the rest of the country from collapsing into depression — just wait. An inflationary depression is now all but inevitable.

    With the energetic and persistent support of Obama and the Democrats, the old Reagan/Nordquist/et-al dream is coming true: that of creating deficits and debts so titanic that the government as we’ve known it (most especially government services and benefits for the less-than-rich) will become unsustainable. They tried to do it with just military spending, but as huge as that is, it still wasn’t enough. The new approach is to add-in $trillions in gifts to the financial sector. And it is working! The liabilities are finally becoming so vast that austerity (only for the poor and middle class, of course) will be the only option. The Democratic Party is playing a key role in the final realization of the Reagan Revolution.

  10. Meta
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Obama came back to the base because he needed them.

    From the Washington Post:

    So why does the 2012 election remain competitive?

    First, despite their griping, Obama’s base still believes. Support among Democrats and African Americans is solid. Obama’s recent conversion to the old-time Democratic religion of class conflict — preached at Occupy Wall Street tent meetings — has rallied American liberalism. This approach has its limits. A message that shores up support from the left may complicate Obama’s appeal to independents. The construction of a 43 percent floor may also involve the construction of a ceiling not far above it. But Obama’s appeal to the political middle was no longer working. A base strategy was his only credible strategy, and it seems to have prevented a polling collapse.

    Second, while voters may be disappointed with Obama’s job performance, they have not turned on Obama himself. His personal approval is strong. Here there is a significant gap between the American public and, well, me. I have often found Obama’s public manner to be professorial and off-putting. Americans seem to think it calm, self-possessed and reassuring. Even in his failures, Obama does not seem hapless. He fully inhabits the public role of commander in chief. And Obama’s commitment to his family — his protection of their privacy and normality — is widely admired.

    The power of such favorable impressions should not be underestimated. Americans do not believe that Obama has succeeded, but they still want him to succeed.

    Third, it is now evident to everyone but Republicans — who report themselves resolutely satisfied with their choices — that the Republican presidential field is weak. In a contest of Romney, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, iron would have sharpened iron. Instead, the GOP race has been a series of trial balloons, popped by cluelessness, incompetence or impropriety. Each front-runner, in turn, seems inevitable just before becoming unimaginable. These episodes of manic enthusiasm, in retrospect, seem desperate and discrediting.

    Republicans have currently settled on their two most skilled candidates: Romney and Gingrich. But both must still reassure independent voters that they are plausible as president. Even Americans unhappy with the current occupant of the White House must be sold on an alternative. Romney, who shares some of Obama’s imperturbability, would have a good chance of meeting the plausibility standard. Gingrich, given his habit of bombast, might have a tougher time of it. Either must develop a message that reaches beyond the conservative core.

    Obama’s loyal base and personal appeal do not assure his reelection. While a campaign of personal attacks against the president would probably backfire, any Republican nominee would have a potent strategy at his or her disposal: the relentless application of damning economic statistics. Obama is vulnerable because his economic performance is poor — a verdict unlikely to be reversed before Election Day.

    Read the rest here-

  11. Larry 7 Larry
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    He should have delivered the speech today, in Hawaii, on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. That would have been a more fitting venue, in my opinion, for talking about what the wealthy are doing to our country.

  12. j
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    He hired Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and Gene Sperling among many other wall street bastards. Exactly how stupid does he think I am?


  13. Edward
    Posted June 4, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Obama may want to mention this headline on the campaign trail.

    “Retirement ages will have to move to 70, 80 years old”

    That comes from AIG’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Benmosche.


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