The Osawatomie Speech: Obama and Roosevelt

President Obama is slowly swinging back toward his base as he moves toward a reelection campaign. Yesterday, he gave an important and revealing speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. Building on Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism language from Roosevelt’s 1910 Osawatomie speech, Obama lays the framework for reprising his platform of populist economics.

But Obama is not yet Roosevelt. “We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community,” Roosevelt said in his speech. “We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.” For Obama to get to that level, he needs to ask Elizabeth Warren to write his speeches and run as his 2012 vice presidential candidate.

Here are some highlights from Obama’s speech this week:

… Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes – especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty.

Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the 50s and 60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory. …

We simply cannot return to this brand of “you’re on your own” economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and in its future. We know it doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citisens.
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