On Tuesday, Barack Obama gave a speech (stop the presses!) of dubious veracity in the small town of Osawatomie, Kansas, in a desperate attempt to wrap himself in the mantle of Theodore Roosevelt. But one wonders whether anyone in the Obama campaign read Roosevelt’s original speech before choosing it as a template for the two parties to follow, since it contradicts Obama’s most fundamental beliefs and defining policies on class warfare, cradle-to-grave welfare, wealth redistribution, crony capitalism, equality of opportunity, and endorsing politically violent movements like Occupy Wall Street. And the nation’s youngest president has yet more to teach his immature successor.
Obama wished to conjure up memories of a groundbreaking speech Teddy delivered in the city in 1910 entitled, “The New Nationalism.” Selecting Roosevelt as the model Republican seems odd, since the founder of the (real) Progressive movement stood closer to liberal hero Woodrow Wilson than Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan. But it is clear which part of the speech appealed to Obama. Teddy said he favored “far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country,” that “each nation must do its own part in international police work,” and that “the executive power as the steward of the public welfare.” The government, he said, may “take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.” Yet Obama overlooked significant lessons TR would want him to learn.
Obama has endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose members have committed numerous felonies and misdemeanors against one another and left their hosts with a hefty bill and a huge mess to clean up, when they leave at all. Would the advocate of “The New Nationalism” hail a movement whose members sang, “F— the USA”? Would the hero of San Juan Hill stand with the rabble of Zuccotti Park?
In the speech Obama cited, TR warned against political “excess,” saying, “I do not want to see our people, for lack of proper leadership, compelled to follow men whose intentions are excellent, but whose eyes are a little too wild to make it really safe to trust them.”
Like whom? Teddy told the Kansas crowd, “in the interest of the working man himself, we need to set our faces like flint against mob-violence just as against corporate greed; against violence and injustice and lawlessness by wage-workers just as much as against lawless cunning and greed and selfish arrogance of employers.”
Aimed like a dagger at Obama’s heart, Teddy Roosevelt said, “I have small use for the public servant who can always see and denounce the corruption of the capitalist, but who cannot persuade himself, especially before election, to say a word about lawless mob-violence.”
Democratic pollster Doug Schoen reported that 31 percent of Occupiers he surveyed said they “would support violence to advance their agenda.” Barack Obama echoed OWS talking points in a weekly radio address in October and told two Occupy protesters, “You’re the reason I ran for office in the first place” in November.
More than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt warned America about movements like Occupy Wall Street — and leaders like Barack Obama.
No Class Warfare
In the 1910 oration, Teddy quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said, “Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.” Roosevelt commented, “It seems to me that, in these words, Lincoln took substantially the attitude that we ought to take.”
Barack Obama has committed himself to “spread the wealth around.” In a 2001 Chicago public radio interview, he said one of the “failures” and “tragedies” of the civil rights movement was that it had not “put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change.” He lamented the fact that the Supreme Court viewed the Constitution as “a charter of negative liberties” and “never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.” His FCC “Diversity Czar,” Mark Lloyd, who was vetted by Obama’s alter ego Valerie Jarrett, has said, “We’re in a position where you have to say who is going to step down so someone else can have power.”
No Help for the Shiftless
The Republican Roosevelt said that, while his clarification may be “hardly necessary in Kansas,” he defined the requirements for those seeking government aid:
When I say I want a square deal for the poor man, I do not mean that I want a square deal for the man who remains poor because he has not got the energy to work for himself. If a man who has had a chance will not make good, then he has got to quit. And you men of the Grand Army, you want justice for the brave man who fought, and punishment for the coward who shirked his work. Is that not so?
He added, “Understand what I say there. Give him a chance, not push him up if he will not be pushed. Help any man who stumbles; if he lies down, it is a poor job to try to carry him.”
There was no complement to this in Obama’s speech, nor his presidency. He wishes to extend unemployment benefits virtually into perpetuity, and his appointees believe food stamps are the hallmark of healthy economic growth. He favors strong unions in industry and education, which often have the effect of preserving the jobs of those who do not wish to work as hard as their non-unionized counterparts. The closest modern complement to this sentiment came when Michele Bachmann told the Family Research Council (quoting II Thessalonians 3:10), “Self reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat” — and the liberal media turned that into a minor scandal.
No Special Privileges
TR said his “struggle for human betterment” aimed “to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity” for all Americans. That means, “First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned.”
In his day, the popular imagination saw special privilege embodied in the Robber Barons, whose monopoly industries — many of which were created through partnership with big government — stood unregulated. Today, it is government itself that best represents unearned power and prestige.
Obama instituted a government pay freeze after going on a spending spree of unprecedented proportions. USA Today estimated that federal workers earned twice as much as their private sector counterparts, and their compensation rose more than 400 percent faster than that of free market employees. To implement TR’s vision today, we must uproot bureaucracy and assure that a job funded by tax dollars is not significantly more attractive than a job that produces them.
Then as now, crony capitalism infested our political system. Roosevelt observed that “the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics.” Would those words not apply to GE, Solyndra, labor unions, and the Green Jobs lobby that gave us the incandescent light bulb ban and the exploding Chevy Volt?
TR said, “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.” As Obama has done with executive orders, regulations, lawsuits, and various forms of federal fiat; by turning over partial ownership of a private company to the United Auto Workers.; and by filing lawsuits against the Arizona immigration act, as well as similar measures in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
To fully implement Theodore Roosevelt’s opposition to special privilege, we must end Affirmative Action policies in hiring, union membership, and college admissions. Teddy noted that during the Civil War, “The only complaint was when a man got promotion which he did not earn.” Instead, Obama’s Justice Department instructed colleges last week to consider race in school and college composition, ignoring the spirit of standing Supreme Court decisions against impermissible racial gerrymandering. He has offered a campaign of stealth reparations to correct for “our tragic history” as a nation of oppressors. In his apology and national indictment submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Obama whimpered, “The United States continues to address such disparities” as the fact that American Indians are less likely than whites to earn a college degree “to ensure that equal opportunity is not only guaranteed in law but experienced in fact by all Americans.” But any focus on “disparities” ignores the role talent, effort, discipline, and persistence play in academic achievement or wealth accumulation.
What Obama supports is not equality of opportunity but equality of outcome, and Roosevelt, along with all the presidents on Mt. Rushmore, reject it as un-American.
Good Government Springs from Good Morality
In stark contrast to Obama’s windy oration, “The New Nationalism” recognized that good government rests necessarily upon the moral fiber of its people. “We must have — I believe we have already — a genuine and permanent moral awakening, without which no wisdom of legislation or administration really means anything,” he said.
In the last analysis, the most important elements in any man’s career must be the sum of those qualities which, in the aggregate, we speak of as character. If he has not got it, then no law that the wit of man can devise, no administration of the law by the boldest and strongest executive, will avail to help him. We must have the right kind of character — character that makes a man, first of all, a good man in the home, a good father, and a good husband — that makes a man a good neighbor.
Roosevelt, like our Founding Fathers, understood a people of corrupted manners are incapable of producing a moral government, nor even a limited one. The Rough Rider echoed the words of the first great military president, George Washington, who said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.”
Barack Obama has a far different conception of America. He insists, “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation.” Instead, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” In fact, America is “one of the largest Muslim nations in the world.” While celebrating the most arcane of non-Christian religious holidays (Diwali, Nowruz, Kwanzaa, etc.), his observation of Christian holidays is typically perfunctory or non-existent. His Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is currently interfering in a court case that could give the government the right to determine proper criteria for church ministers and parochial school teachers. He seeks to strip pro-life physicians and ministries the right to follow their conscience and refuse to support the taking of unborn life. His administration opposes the inclusion of the D-Day prayer offered by TR’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on the World War II Memorial.
Obama could not stand further apart from the man who said, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.”
Obama said in his speech, “The truth is we’ll never be able to compete with other countries when it comes to who’s best at letting their businesses pay the lowest wages…That’s a race to the bottom that we can’t win, and we shouldn’t want to win that race.” This could only be accomplished by assuring Americans are the world’s “highest-skilled, highest-educated workers.”
What does that mean for Obama’s immigration policy?
It is no secret America’s borders are insecure. The vast majority of illegal aliens come seeking work as migrant laborers and farm hands, jobs that require more brawn than brain. By all measures, they are less likely to have a college, or even a high school, education, than native born Americans. Harvard economist George Borjas has spent his career proving the role immigration plays in lowering American wages and in the process pricing Americans with the most tenuous grasp on the workforce out of the market. These tend to be younger Americans and native-born minorities.
Theodore Roosevelt, whom Obama’s speech was intended to invoke, had a solution for this dilemma that bears repeating today: “It is urgently necessary to check and regulate our immigration, by much more drastic laws than now exist; and this should be done both to keep out laborers who tend to depress the labor market, and to keep out…not only criminals, idiots, and paupers, but anarchists.”
Roosevelt had much different idea of how immigrants should acculturate themselves to their new country than our current president. Barack Obama has labored mightily to assist “language minorities,” non-English speakers who are overwhelmingly illegal immigrants. TR said, “where immigrants, or the sons of immigrants, do not heartily and in good faith throw in their lot with us, but cling to the speech, the customs, the ways of life, and the habits of thought of the Old World which they have left, they thereby harm both themselves and us. If they remain alien elements, unassimilated, and with interests separate from ours, they are mere obstructions to the current of our national life, and, moreover, can get no good from it themselves.”
Obama could learn a lot from Teddy Roosevelt’s view of Americanism. But that would require reading a second speech, and apparently reading one is too taxing for this administration.