Obama invoking Theodore Roosevelt

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Dec 6, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Osawatomie, Kansas — population 4,447 — had its once-every-101-years day in the sun today.

President Obama took from the pages of history — and the Theodore Roosevelt playbook — and went back to the place where, as we all now know, Roosevelt laid out his square deal for the middle class in the summer of 1910. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, President Obama has his own square deal, and today, his own speech to parallel the turn of the last century.

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer has more.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: President Obama headed to Osawatomie, Kansas, today to channel Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt delivered his famous “New Nationalism” address in Osawatomie in 1910. Here’s part of it, read for us by Roosevelt impersonator Joe Wiegand.

Joe Wiegand (as Theodore Roosevelt): I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed.

Then Roosevelt went on to describe his “square deal” for the middle class: An eight-hour workday, minimum wage and workers’ comp. Roosevelt historian Kathleen Dalton says Teddy Roosevelt pushed hard for change because he’d seen poverty up close.

Kathleen Dalton: He’d gone into mining company towns and seen people living without running water, people living in shacks, people dying of black lung disease. And he was appalled.

Today, President Obama said he was appalled at the widening economic inequality in the U.S., and that people have fallen through the cracks in our transition to the digital age.

Barack Obama: This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.

The president’s version of a square deal? Extension of the payroll tax cut, higher taxes on the wealthy and new penalties for financial firms that commit fraud.

Princeton political scientist Julian Zelizer says President Obama is motivated by personal beliefs — and politics.

Julian Zelizer: Clearly, President Obama feels he has to define what he’s about, what the Democratic party is about. And this is an effort to return to some core principles.

Like the more activist federal government Teddy Roosevelt talked about so much.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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