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Imagine if Obama Gave that Teddy Roosevelt Speech Instead

By John Martin - Posted on 07 December 2011

The President has been criticized from many sides for his Osawatomie speech. Some have said it offered no specifics, and therefore served little purpose. Others say it was just a call for more failed liberal tax and spend policies. But no matter how hard his critics try, the policies the President hinted at are mild by historical standards. 

The president implied that we should go back to the tax rates we had in the 1990's-- which were still much lower than in previous decades. Instead of calling for great redistributions of wealth, he spoke of training workers in high-tech skills, and investing more in R&D and a 21st century infrastructure. In other words, the President was advocating for an economy that will encourage businesses to grow and create higher-paying jobs. Once our economy adds more of these jobs, people would be better able to work their way up the economic ladder and support their families. 

Most striking, though, was how much more tame the President's rhetoric was than the language used by Teddy Roosevelt in his own Osawatomie speech 101 years ago. The Republican icon spoke of "destroying privilege," and of how the "special business interests" corrupt our elected officials. He sure seemed to have it in for the 1% of his time:

In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self- government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth. That is nothing new...

Now, this means that our government, national and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit...

The Constitution guarantees protections to property, and we must make that promise good, but it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man's making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.

That is a great speech, and I feel he was echoing a wonderful speech made by Abraham Lincoln exactly 150 years ago.  I came across this article just a couple days ago.


"It is not needed, nor fitting here [in discussing the Civil War] that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions; but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effect to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor, in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded thus far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

"Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights."

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