On December 6, 2011
, at Osawatomie, Kansas, President Barack Obama set out to re-energize his re-election campaign by praising the new nationalism ideas delivered at Osawatomie in 1911 by then-former president Teddy Roosevelt.
TR’s comments were delivered at a dedication of a park in memory of abolitionist John Brown — the same John Brown who was hanged for his murderous raids, including one at Osawatomie.
While the 1911 TR speech was sponsored by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, Obama’s 2011 speech was part and parcel of the Obama re-election campaign.
In 1911, TR’s speech was said to have been the most radical ever delivered by a former U.S. president. In it, he introduced his concept of the “square deal” and marked the birth of the Progressive Movement in the Republican Party.
Not until the 1930s would the Democrat Party under Franklin Delano Roosevelt take up the progressive label, repackaging the “square deal” as the New Deal.
Among the Progressive ideas of TR’s new nationalism speech were the following:
- The executive branch of the government should “equalize opportunity” and “destroy privilege” by giving every citizen, rather than special interests, the highest possible value. TR envisioned the commonwealth getting from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable.
- TR called for a “square deal” to increase government control of social and economic conditions. He called for fair play that would change existent rules to work for more substantial equality of opportunity and reward for equally good service. His “square deal”, however, was never meant for the man who had not the energy to work for himself.
- TR stated that corporate officers, especially directors, should be held responsible when any corporation breaks the law.
- In environmental matters, TR advocated the conservation of natural resources promoted by Gifford Pinchot, rather than the wilderness preservation then promoted by John Muir.
- TR called for comprehensive workmen’s compensation acts along with child labor and women’s work laws. He concluded that the object of government is the welfare of the people.
President Obama in his 2011 Osawatomie speech took the policies of TR and FDR a step further, calling for a progressive Democrat agenda based on the redistribution of wealth via the “middle class.”
His Osawatomie speech condemned concepts that envision the market taking care of everything, if only regulations are cut and taxes lowered.
Obama stated that cutting taxes and reducing regulations form an unworkable theory.
He said, “Now, it is a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA . . . Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked.”
Thus Obama’s Osawatomie speech denigrated American individuality, creativity, independence, and belief that a big-brother government of entitlements doesn’t know best.
Obama stated that over the decades “the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk.”
He attacked the 2001 and 2003 Congressional (Bush) tax cuts as “the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history,” tax cuts that make it harder for the “middle class.”
Obama repeated his contention that Wall Street is the enemy of middle-class America, even as his biggest campaign donors are found on Wall Street and are among the beneficiaries of his bailout and stimulus packages.
Going beyond TR’s new nationalism, Obama sought to justify his redistribution of wealth by repeating his attack on the rich.
He blamed the rich for creating the economic inequality that undermines the “middle class,” that drags down the entire economy, that fails to pay for education, science, technology, Medicare, Social Security, and that “distorts our democracy.”
More “progressive” than TR, Obama advocated entitlements even for those who fail to do their fair share of the work.
TR’s 1911 speech quoted Abraham Lincoln’s admonishment that man exists to improve his own condition and to work diligently to build his own house and not to tear down another’s house.
Obama declared that “immigrants historically have flocked to our shores” because of the opportunity to work hard and “get into the middle class.”
He assiduously avoided, however, any reference to his unfulfilled 2008 campaign promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the first year of his administration.
President Obama might well take as a cautionary tale, the uproar that followed TR’s new nationalism speech in 1911, during which the former president was branded “a communist,” “a socialist,” and “an anarchist.”
TR had cautioned Gifford Pinchot who, along with journalist Richard Allen White, drafted the 1911 Osawatomie speech that it was never wise to get too far ahead of the people.
Obama might well heed that sage advice, for following the 1911 Osawatomie speech, Theodore Roosevelt was defeated in his campaign for another term as president.
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