President Obama was astride his stallion of rhetoric today, in full gallop as he led a cavalry charge against an apocalyptic axis of Republican philosophy and alarming income inequality.
The old Rough Rider himself, Teddy Roosevelt, would have been proud.
Obama delivered a sweeping indictment of economic inequality in the U.S. as he summoned the memory of Roosevelt and pledged to fight for fairness at a “make-or-break moment for the middle class.”
Obama traveled to small-town Osawatomie, Kansas, where Roosevelt delivered his “New Nationalism” address in 1910, to embrace the progressive reformer’s calls for a “square deal” for regular Americans.
While Obama often appears so soft you wonder if he has been training on a diet of Haagen-Dazs, he took a hard line today, primed to smash to smithereens GOP attempts to turn the middle class into dinosaurs.
“This isn’t just another political debate,” Obama said. “This is the defining issue of our time.”
Obama offered one of his most detailed critiques yet of the GOP’s bedrock philosophy, likening them to a long line of discredited political movements who opposed taxes on the wealthy and regulations on business.
“I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules,” Obama said. “Those aren’t Democratic or Republican values; 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values, and we have to reclaim them.”
Taking a sweeping historical view that’s characterized some of his most famous speeches, particularly his 2008 address on race, Obama compared Republicans to Gilded Age elites and their attacks on Roosevelt’s reforms.
“[Roosevelt] believed then what we know is true today: that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history,” Obama said. “It’s led to a prosperity and standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world. But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can. It only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest.”
For this, Roosevelt was called “a radical, a socialist, even a communist,” Obama said. “But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for.”
Obama pivoted to attack the current Republican party as the latest incarnation of this longstanding laissez-faire strain, saying that their philosophy had been proven unworkable over and over since Roosevelt’s time.
“It’s a simple theory — one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government,” he said. “It fits well on a bumper sticker. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It’s 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 post-war boom of the 50s and 60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade.”
Nevertheless, Republicans, with Newt Gingrich front and center after taking a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in a new Gallup Poll, undoubtedly will continue to occupy that womb of myths, that tomb of dreams.