President Barack Obama made a full-throated call on Tuesday for voters to give progressives more control over the economy, wrapping himself in the image of former President Teddy Roosevelt.
“We are greater together — when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share,” he declared.
The free market alternative, he said, “doesn’t work, it has never worked.”
The campaign trail pitch was aimed at voters who are under pressure from changing technology and from international competition, and it offered government as as friendly, even-handed, populist and progressive solution to the stalled economy and to wealth disparities.
The government-first pitch was also aimed at Obama’s allies in the government-backed sectors of the economy who fear the loss of subsidies and regulations under a GOP president. Those industries include the green-tech energy industry, the taxpayer-funded education sector, and the civil rights legal sector, among others.
Obama delivered the speech in Osawatomie, Kan., because that’s where Roosevelt gave a famous 1910 speech dubbed the “New Nationalism” speech, which urged greater government control over the economy.
“Our country… means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy … [and] of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him,” Roosevelt said.
Roosevelt served as president from 1901 to 1909, and established a series of extensive regulations to moderate the hard-knock capitalism of the era.
But Roosevelt, who was the first president to describe himself as progressive, sought far greater government control over the national economy than the voters wished, and he was soundly defeated when he ran for president again in 1912.
He lost to Woodrow Wilson, also a progressive, who used his presidency to intensively regulate the economy during World War 1.
But because of voter pressure, those semi-nationalist and semi-socialist regulations were largely withdrawn after the war.
In his speech, Obama repeatedly cited Wall Street as the cause of current economic woes.
“The fact is, this [current economic] crisis has left a deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. … Major banks that were rescued by the taxpayers have an obligation to go the extra mile in helping to close that deficit,” he declared.
He also blamed the growing wealth disparity on former President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, which actually tilted the income tax rules so that wealthier people subsequently paid a higher proportion of taxes.
Obama did not address conservatives’ critique of progressive control, including the argument that progressives’ regulation has crippled the education sector, inflated the housing bubble, boosted health care prices, stalled the energy sector, raised the national debt to $15 trillion, increased wealth disparity and also pushed real unemployment rates to above 10 percent.
For example, GOP critics say that former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine lobbied his Democratic allies to delay implementation of a rule curbing Wall Street companies’ use of their investors’ capital. Since then, Corzine’s Wall Street firm has collapsed and more than a billion dollars of investors money is reportedly missing.
Obama caricatured his GOP opponents as “a certain crowd in Washington,” who claim “we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.”
In contrast, many free market advocates actually support modest regulation to ensure stability and predictability, and they believe that marketplace competition yields better outcomes than progressives’ direction of the economy.
Obama used his speech to argue that several sectors of the economy should change their practices.
“The big banks should increase access to refinancing opportunities to borrowers who have yet to benefit from historically low interest rates … [and it would be in] the banks’ own long-term financial interest,” he declared.
”American business leaders [should] understand that their obligations don’t just end with their shareholders. … CEOs [should be] deciding that it’s time to bring jobs back to the United States — not just because it’s good for business, but because it’s good for the country that made their business and their personal success possible,” he continued.
While saying American companies should keep factories in the country because of the moral debt they owe fellow Americans, Obama also showed his support for continued immigration of foreigners, despite their downward pressure on wages.
Progressives, he said, don’t believe “we should somehow turn back technology or put up walls around America.”
Americans, Obama concluded, will be better off when a progressive government is in power. “Consumers deserve to have someone whose job it is to look out for them … [so] we shouldn’t be weakening oversight and accountability [by government] — we should be strengthening them.”