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Ron Radosh

Why Barack Obama Is not a Modern-Day Theodore Roosevelt!

December 7th, 2011 - 11:23 am

The faux populist Obama is at it again. Yesterday, trying to echo Theodore Roosevelt’s famous talk in Osawatomie, Kansas, in 1910 — when the former president laid out his call for a “New Nationalism.” Barack Obama said yesterday: “This country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share and when everyone plays by the same rules.” Assuming the stance of an anti-Wall Street crusader, the president, who made a deal with Big Pharma on the drug issue and the Big Insurance Firms to gain their support for ObamaCare, pandered to the OWS crowd and tried to echo their cries about the injustice to the 99 percent of the people oppressed by Wall Street.

As A.G. Sulzberger put it in the New York Times:

Infusing his speech with the moralistic language that has emerged in the Occupy protests around the nation, Mr. Obama warned that growing income inequality meant that the United States was undermining its middle class and, “gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America:  that this is the place where you can make it if you try.”

Channeling TR, President Obama, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “cited health-insurance companies, mortgage lenders and financial firms. For too many Americans, he said, hard work no longer pays off, while those ‘at the very top’ have grown wealthier than ever before. The president has periodically bashed Wall Street before, but Tuesday’s speech was more sweeping and went beyond any one industry to say that the middle class as a whole was being left behind in part due to corporate greed and wrongdoing.” As most people know, the president has been the best friend of the insurance companies, financial firms, and the mortgage lenders, who, following liberal policies, proceeded to engage in sub-prime loans to those who could not afford them.

We understand why Obama is taking this stance. Having stood by the wayside after bailing out the banks and the auto companies, and letting the economy worsen, the president found his base wavering in their enthusiasm for him, and he desperately needs their support and their legwork for his 2012 campaign. Talking Left while cooperating with the very titans he attacks is the only move he has left. So he now attacks “breathtaking greed” and uses the OWS slogans as his own; much as LBJ did with the civil rights movement when he talked to Congress and ended his speech with the words “we shall overcome.”

But LBJ did introduce a civil rights bill, while Obama is all hat and no cattle. Of course, Obama said his concern was with “the nation’s welfare,” and that he was not engaging in “class warfare.” The TR 1910 speech, to which he referred many times, according to the Times reporter, “touched on many of the same themes — often in similar language — like concentration of wealth and the need for government to ensure a level playing field. Central to progress, Mr. Roosevelt said, was the conflict between ‘the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess.’” Leaving it with these quotes, it certainly sounds to those not so familiar with TR that Obama was indeed carrying on TR’s old cause.

But a more substantive look at what Roosevelt really argued belies his argument. As Ben Soskis correctly notes at TNR.com, “there was another stratum of meaning in TR’s speech at Osawatomie — a more conservative one that has received less attention.” Roosevelt, he points out, “did not mean for his speech … to be a statement of radical beliefs. He had initially hoped that by championing progressive principles, he could take control of the potentially irresponsible insurgent forces within the GOP and orchestrate a reconciliation with the party’s more conservative wing. In fact, in the address itself, he did not merely define himself as a crusader against special interests; he also signaled his resistance to the excesses of radicalism as well.”

Indeed, he continues: “A few days later, Roosevelt published another version of the speech, more conciliatory toward the forces of concentrated wealth, that he wrote himself.” Condemning the violence engaged in by John Brown [the speech was a memorial to Brown and a park named for him in honor of an 1856 battle Brown waged in Osawatomie) and making it clear that Brown’s contemporary successors were the socialists, Roosevelt wrote that Brown’s “notion that the evils of slavery could be cured by a slave insurrection was a delusion analogous to the delusions of those who expect to cure the evils of plutocracy by arousing the baser passions of workingmen against the rich in an endeavor at violent industrial revolution.”

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