It was the opening gun in Obama’s 2012 re-election bid after three years at the helm during which the bosses and their government have foisted the burden of the deepening economic crisis on the backs of working people. He put forward populist themes that can be expected to mark his effort to re-enlist youth and others who chanted his mantra for “change” in 2008.
The Republicans, for their part, are searching for an “electable” contender, who will run for “jobs,” against the deepening depression conditions under Obama, and against “big government.”
Obama chose Osawatomie to link his campaign themes with Theodore Roosevelt, Republican president from 1901 to 1908 long identified with populist “progressivism.” Roosevelt gave a speech in Osawatomie in l910, which became the platform for his unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination in 1912 and breakaway Progressive Party presidential bid that year.
In addition to the Osawatomie speech, Obama organized the withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise as part of recapturing the image with which he won the presidency.
In his speech Obama presented himself as an advocate for the “common man,” saying the U.S. should be a “country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.”
Early in the talk he pointed to the widening gap between the incomes of working people and “those at the very top [who] grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments—wealthier than ever before” while “everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t…. The average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year.”
He reached out to the “people who’ve been occupying the streets of New York and other cities,” and their protests against the banks and the greedy “1 percent.” The classless populist themes that characterize the Occupy groups, the fact they turn their fire on “the rich” and the banks, not the capitalist class and its government, offers fertile soil for Obama’s election strategy with a more populist image.
Obama calls for bigger governmentThe moral of this story, according to Obama, is the need for the guiding hand of ever bigger government by the wise and “enlightened,” regulating out-of-control speculators and bank executives, and expanding programs that force you to help yourself, like taxes on soda pop to reduce obesity. He calls for higher taxes on the 1 percent to finance his plans.
Obama pointed out that Roosevelt “believed then what we know is true today, that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history,” quoting Roosevelt’s speech in Osawatomie 101 years earlier calling for an “economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”
Obama notes that for the 1910 speech Roosevelt “was called a socialist.” The White House transcript says that the crowd laughed, knowing that Obama has been called a European-style Social Democrat.
Roosevelt is painted in history textbooks as a great progressive, a “trust buster,” and friend of the little man.
Roosevelt touted “progressive” pronouncements, especially after the onset of economic depression in 1907, while championing the advance of U.S. imperialism, which included the seizure of the Philippines, Cuba, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico and deeper intervention in China. He spoke against “bad trusts,” while defending and aiding the U.S. Steel Trust of J.P. Morgan, with which he was closely aligned.
Roosevelt was a strong partisan of U.S. intervention in the First World War, in order to advance its imperialist interests against all its competitors.
Roosevelt’s populist rhetoricHis populism, including support for the right of women to vote and promulgation of regulations against child labor, served as cover for his advancement of a strong, federal regime, and powerful military, using its weight to defend and advance imperialist interests against its competitors and against the working class.
In his 1910 speech in Kansas, Roosevelt used the occasion to attack the Appeal to Reason, the socialist paper with the widest circulation in the country at the time, noting that it “habitually denounces me as the tool of Wall Street.”
In fact, even before Roosevelt launched his Progressive Party run in 1912, U.S. Steel officials and other “Wall Street men” donated $2.5 million to his campaign war chest.
Obama’s speech was long on populist rhetoric devoid of concrete proposals that could improve conditions for “the working people.” He calls for increased government investment in education, so people can learn skills to replace “disappearing” manufacturing jobs. He urges more “diversity,” drawing Blacks, women and others into the meritocratic federal bureaucracy, dictating endless rules and regulations. And he calls for unleashing “daring entrepreneurs” to advance U.S. capitalism.
Obama’s pro-“working man” rhetoric conflicts with the record of his administration. He has presided over a deepening bipartisan assault against Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He has greatly expanded the use of drones, special forces and targeted assassinations to defend U.S. imperialist interests. He has blocked any significant public works program to provide jobs for those thrown on the street by capitalism’s crisis.
And he continues to press for more government, to regulate, spy, police and imprison those who challenge his “enlightened” vision of capitalist rule.
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