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Obama’s Roosevelt Envy–And Ours

| December 9, 2011

Obama's re-creation moment.

FlaglerLive Editor Pierre Tristam’s weekly commentaries are broadcast on WNZF on Fridays just after 9 a.m., leading into Free For all Friday with David Ayers. Here’s this week’s.

Much is being made about the similarities between President Obama’s speech on the economy and inequality in Osawatamie, Kansas, this week, and the speech delivered in the same place 101 years ago by Teddy Roosevelt. There are a few similarities. But to stick, the comparison must rely on a good deal of historical amnesia.

Pierre Tristam FlaglerLive editor

Pierre Tristam



The Live Column


Obama’s speech was more interesting than most of those he’s delivered lately: less anguished, less deferential to Republican doctrine, or rather trickery, that equates asking the rich to pay their fair share with attacking success. He sounded like a president who’s finally woken up to a few realities. Playing nice with Republicans hasn’t worked. Trying to meet them in the middle has made economic roadkill of the majority of people who dwell in that middle, namely, the middle class. (Forget the poor and working class: they’re the forgotten sixth of this country.) Average incomes have dropped 6 percent in the past decade except for the top 1 percent, whose income has gone up by more than 250 percent.

This may not seem like an America recognizable by any recent standards of fairness. But what Obama described as “you’re on your own economics” more accurately represents the business of America since its founding. It’s the America of William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the Darwinian kind of America where Republicans feel at home. No regulation. NO government intervention in individuals’ pursuit of success, no matter at whose expense. It’s only rarely, during the two Roosevelts’ time for example and the liberal aberration of the 1960s, and its faint Clintonian echoes of the 1990s, that fairness and equality of opportunity were considered at least as important as success. Not surprisingly, it was during those times that the economy grew most, that inequality narrowed, standards of living rose for the masses, and the country was at its most powerful, morally and economically.

That’s not quite the Obama platform. Aside from a surtax on the rich, he’s got nothing. Not even a strong economic record to run on, though battling an incessant insurgency of reactionary fanatics in Congress would cripple the best of them. Taxing the rich more is fine. Taxing them more to the exclusion of taxing everyone else–and I mean everyone, progressively–is a losing proposition. So is buying the electorate with yet another cut in Social Security taxes: that only fattens the debt and future arguments to scale back Social Security.

And taxes alone aren’t the way out of the mire if the economy remains chained to corporate diktat. The Roosevelt speech in Osawatomie had called for complete transparency of corporate books. He called for the prohibition of corporate campaign contributions. He called for holding corporate board presidents personally responsible for their companies’ violations of law. He called for strict regulation of big business: the bigger you get, the more regulated. Mention those things today and you’re called a socialist.

Of course there was none of that in Obama’s speech, which made him sound more like Woodrow Wilson than Teddy Roosevelt—preachy and sanctimonious, but without much substance or backbone. In other words he was good at talking symptoms, not so good at proposing specific ways to treat a political system diseased by the massive money stashes of a few. His tax proposals aren’t serious considering how modest they are. They don’t address underlying debt. They don’t restore faith in a crumbling fiscal system. It’s more rhetoric than solutions.

That’s not entirely bad for Obama. Wilson went on to win that election in 1912, beating Roosevelt, incumbent William Howard Taft and Eugene Debs, the socialist in the mix. Obama may be just as lucky, considering the parade of spoofs that’s passing for Republican presidential candidates these days. But it’s not about just winning an election. Obama did that four years ago. What he hasn’t done is live up to his Roosevelt envy. And ours.

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23 Responses for “Obama’s Roosevelt Envy–And Ours”

  1. Kip Durocher says:

    On target again Pierre.

    might i add

    What Obama has not done is lead. You don’t threaten and push ~ Presidents are suppose to lead.
    His campaign promises, although no candidate ever gets to do them all, have been a nothing.
    President Zero.
    He will be relegated by history in a clump with bush-lite. He and bush-lite will be know as the two presidents who allowed the banksters to go @pe sh!t and rob the nation of it’s future.
    Head in sand with one arm stuck in the air holding the collection bag.

    Obama removed my cynicism about US politics and restored it ~ all in just 3 years.
    That is tricky dickie type stats.

  2. Prescient33 says:

    How a man whose lackeys have put his foot on the fuel line of the growth engine in our economic system, private enterprise, through over regulation and prevention of domestic production of energy sources like natural gas, oil, and coal, can claim a lack of fairness in the product of his failed policies escapes me.

  3. Outsider says:

    One day he’s pretending to be Kennedy; then it’s Lincoln; now it’s Roosevelt. Going through life without your own sense of who you are must really suck, just as his presidency sucks.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    @ Prescient 33. Preventing the domestic production of energy sources gas, oil and coal? Not the current one did. Otherwise look at our Gulf oil spill due to lack of regulation and monitoring. When it comes to gas look a this : http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-08/gas-fracking-chemicals-detected-in-wyoming-aquifer-epa-says.html
    Also due to lack of over regulation. We still have the fox guarding the chicken coop. The Wall Street bail outs and consequent millionaire bonuses to the crooks that engineered the financial debacle, also due to lack of over regulation. Which country and current administration are you talking about? Sure not our current one. Lets remember that these failed policies started in 2001 and today’s results are inefficacy of our current President wasting his first two years trying to befriend Republicans, other than use the power the people gave him, to pass legislation to fix our economy. “Can’t Sleep aka golf with the enemy” Should have done it “a la decider” like when GB invented WMD, to get us into these never ending unaffordable wars leaving the “sucking” sound of battle and a bankrupt economy for the next one”. Talking about change of venue….just look at the Republican debates on TV.

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      “Lack of over regulation?” Many of these failed policies wouldn’t be happening if we had term limits. The minute you leave ANY politician in office too long, this is what you get.

      This President hasn’t passed a budget. He doesn’t know how to lead. He looks to others to emulate. When one icon doesn’t work, he switches to another. He does not feel comfortable enought in his own skin to even have a settled philosophy except to want to level the playing field.

      Because he has no solid business experience, he has no sense of the damage he’s doing to business or the consequences of each regulation he passes. He is not interested in that. He is trying to control, not regulate.

      There is a difference.

      This is what happens when you don’t have an active or informed electorate.

  5. NortonSmitty says:

    I’ve said it before, but I thought I was voting for a 21st century Franklin Roosevelt and instead we got George Bush in Blackface.

  6. Liana G says:

    I think that if the masters controlling our gov’t – both parties – really want to appease the American people, they ought to let Ron Paul be the next president. Let’s face it there is no way in hell he will be allowed to abolish the feds and income tax, reduce the size of our military, end all wars, legalize weed, and the host of other issues he stands for and against. But electing him will at least give the American people a renewed sense of hope since the last promise of hope and change never materialized.

    To think I got threatened with a lynching for having this current president sticker on my vehicle when I was living in deep south GA during his campaign. And my son, who was living in Ohio at the time, had his tires slashed for having his car plastered with hope and change. He also got cursed at and doors slammed in his face volunteering on his ‘get out the vote’ campaign. Even my republican leaning/independent voter husband voted for him. Not likely to happen this time around.

    Ron Paul 2012!

  7. Will Allen says:

    Gosh. I’m not sure what can of person could have taken the path directly into the economic quick sand
    that existed in 2008 and not come out half defeated, but able to say, “You know, quick sand’s nothing
    like I thought it would be. Nobody told me there was no bottom.” In other words, I’m not sure there was a soul on earth who could have solved all the problems we had then. One thing I told the misses when everyone one was chanting ‘Change we can believe in,’ I said, ‘good luck fella. Things are a lot more troubling and serious than you can imagine.’ Sorry, but their’s no savior for the malfeasance and greed that controls the switches of casino economics.

    I just wish the home team had concentrated more on keeping the honest workers working and the new resource of young Americans promise that they were wanted for hire. We older folks knew better times.
    Imagine what the high school or college grad gets for their ambitions?

  8. See Whut U Did Thar says:

    “…the Darwinian kind of America where Republicans feel at home.”

    That’s a pretty clever line of copy.

  9. w.ryan says:

    Disturbing as Obama’s identity crisis is, what’s worse is the jackals waiting in the wings. Disturbing. Never does Obama fully exhausts the possibilities and push the envelope. I want to see some meaningful action. As for Ron Paul’s views to let business discriminate. If his ideas of what government should intervene in was practiced, Blacks would probably still not be permitted in restaurants in Flagler County.

  10. Liana G says:

    Mr Ryan, Ron Paul’s view strongly promotes individual rights and freedoms same as liberals to an extent. There is still blatant discrimination in this country, trouble is, many are too dumbd to figure out they’re being discriminated against, especially when it’s dressed up in fancy lingo. My son recently gave me a book he read and wanted to share with me – The Trouble With Diversity: How we learned to love identity AND IGNORE INEQUALITY by Walter Benn Michaels. The real problem in this country. I have said it before and I will say it again. I’d rather be a rich brown woman discriminated against than a poor brown woman because I’ll have the resources to know and do something about it if I choose. No I will not sit in the back of a freaking bus and I don’t care to give a white’s only business MY business. I’ll take my business elsewhere.

    My son told me about a conversation he had with an African American Airman who was stationed in Denmark. The young Airman told him that although he was/he knew he was discriminated against in Denmark, the folks/gov’t there treated him a whole lot better than the folks/gov’t in his own country. My son was surprised and so was I when he mentioned it to me. I in 4 AA men are in prison in this country. You think discrimination isn’t rampant? Happy Holidays Mr Ryan. Do you know our two native countries never did like each other :)

    • w.ryan says:

      Liana G – You’re 1 up on me though I can presume… I doubt highly that we could have gotten as far as we did with this turn the other cheek philosophy. Gandhi shamed the English through none violence. He stood his ground and through courage and determination to change racism he embarrass them into submission. There is nothing gained by knowing the problem but leaving the problem in place. As for the poor brown woman with no resources, she did good by eliminating the problem for the rich brown woman with all of the resources. The rich brown woman doesn’t have to give up her seat on the bus anymore. That’s right! The rich brown woman has a chauffeur. “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”(MLK)
      Happy Holidays to you Liana G. I appreciate the dialog friend.

  11. William says:

    As usual, we hear the weak tea arguments trotted out by Faux “News” and regurgitated ad nauseum by its adherents that it is the deficit, regulations, and taxation on the “job creators” that ails our economy. Bull. It is a lack of DEMAND. As if the wrong-wing talking points had not been debunked thoroughly enough, let me once again offer another excellent, well sourced article which shines a light on some of the myths promulgated by by fascist interests and their subservient presstitutes:

    http://www.cracktwo.com/2011/12/rich-people-dont-create-jobs-6-myths.html

  12. Liana G says:

    Mr. Ryan, I was making reference to Trinidad and its next door neighbor. With reference to Gandhi, he held a law degree from Oxford which helped him to ‘shame the English’ who invaded his county and set out to do what they have done in every country they have invaded. There were NO rich black/brown women before poor black/brown women in this country. They were all poor. And the progress of blacks in this country could not have been possible without the help of good hearted whites. The same way the progress of women could not have been possible without the help of good hearted men.

    As for taking my business elsewhere, Mr Ryan, I would prefer to eat at an Uncle Tom’s diner and know that my food is prepared and served with good intentions, than at a Denny’s or the likes and worry about what’s in it – why would I want to pay them to eat their spit (that being the tamest they would possibly do). Most smart business people go into business to make money regardless of who their customers are. To me that is a sound and healthy outlook for a business to have to succeed. Love All – Serve All, one of the reasons I love Hard Rock Cafe, besides their food.

    • w.ryan says:

      Liana G – Blanket statements leaving room for assumptions. We must be careful not to suggest that we turn over on our backs and get rolled over. Which was not the case for Rosa parks. She is whom I was referring to. There are some AA’s who suggest dealing with racism just like what you have suggested. The problem I see with that philosophy is that it is made in Post Civil Right . We now have opportunities as a result of confronting and overcoming racist actions of American Society. We certainly weren’t alone. The America I believe in helped. As for Gandhi he was privileged and didn’t turn his back on his people because of the comforts of privilege. Also, black/brown woman example was purely to mention how anyone can make a difference. You stated it. We don’t have to wait to become rich to make a difference. As for rich black women, you must have heard about Madame CJ walker, She did good things but what power did she have pre-Civil rights? By the way I do choose where I want to eat based on service etc. It’s about exclusion because of race and sexuality. I wish Clarence Thomas and Herman (Uncle Tom) Cain could understand that. We’ve sidetracked from this stirring article about the Presidents speech. Peace!

      • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

        Strange, you didn’t mention any of Dr. King’s contributions to all this. Was that because he was a Republican?

  13. w.ryan says:

    Did MLK act like a Republican? What was his contribution to America. Did Dr.King want to address poverty before he was killed? Did he support unions? By the way…What is a Republican these days?

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      w.ryan, you don’t remember MLK? His contribution to America was freedom. Suggest you may want to revisit that part of history.

      I am not a Republican and I do not support unions. I suppport people.

  14. w.ryan says:

    Freedom?

  15. PJ says:

    I really enjoyed this one!

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