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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Barack and Teddy

Is there a new Obama? Robert Reich seems to think so. He quotes Obama's recent Kansas speech, which certainly hit some of the right notes...
We all know the story by now: Mortgages sold to people who couldn’t afford them, or sometimes even understand them. Banks and investors allowed to keep packaging the risk and selling it off. Huge bets - and huge bonuses - made with other people’s money on the line. Regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this, but looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to look at all.

It was wrong. It combined the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility across the system. And it plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we are still fighting to recover. It claimed the jobs, homes, and the basic security of millions - innocent, hard-working Americans who had met their responsibilities, but were still left holding the bag.
To which Reich responds:
Precisely – and it’s about time he used the term “wrong” to describe Wall Street’s antics, and the abject failure of regulators (led by Alan Greenspan and the Fed) to stop what was going on. But these “wrongs” were only the proximate cause of the economic crisis. The underlying cause was, as the President said before, the breaking of the basic bargain linking pay to productivity.
In this speech, Obama used Teddy Roosevelt as his touchstone. Unlike (I suspect) many of you, I admire TR a great deal -- although we must always be careful to stipulate which TR we're talking about. If ever a man contained multitudes, he did.

Obama's speech references TR the trust-buster and corporation-tamer. Karl Rove, by contrast, is famed for his admiration of TR the imperialist world-beater and empire-builder -- the guy with the Big Stick. That's the Roosevelt I don't care for.

Imperialist Teddy never bothered me too much, because he manifested himself primarily in speeches, not in practical action. As President, Roosevelt didn't start wars, although he did negotiate the end of one, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in the process.

Which brings me to my point. Speech and action are two different things.

That's why I -- unlike Reich, unlike Steve Kornacki -- remain unimpressed. Obama may have decided to shore up the Democratic base by talking like TR the corporation-tamer, but speech is speech, action is action, and that man in the White House can't hide the fact that has had three years to do something about Wall Street perfidy. The "malefactors of great wealth" are still malefacting.

If we look at actions, not words, we see that what Obama has really given us a modern version of Imperial Teddy. Actually, that assessment is not fair: Obama has done things that Roosevelt, even in his silliest fits of macho hallucination, would never had dared. Obama has maintained two unpopular wars and involved himself in a third. He has threatened Iran with covert actions and rattling sabers. Gitmo remains ongoing. Surveillance has worsened. The U.S. has alienated Pakistan.

Obama is no Theodore Roosevelt. TR talked like a warrior but delivered reform. Obama talks like a reformer and, so far, has given us nothing but war.

Kornacki references Obama's 2004 speech to the DNC, but refuses to note the most significant thing about it: Obama (unlike Kerry or Clinton -- and yes, I looked up their speeches) refused, on that occasion, to condemn the invasion of Iraq. I seem to be the only person who has ever noticed that omission. Everyone else who heard that speech presumed that he said words which he did not actually utter. Throughout 2003-2006, Obama refused to say that the invasion was a bad idea. He did not speak at anti-war rallies; he did not write anti-war opinion pieces. Yet in 2008, he ran as a war opponent.

This experience taught me not just to mistrust Obama's words; I rarely trust the words of any politician. More importantly, I learned not to trust the way Democrats interpret his words. The "want to believe" factor clouds judgment.

Sorry, Mr. Reich. But too much time has passed; too much has happened -- and not happened -- since the election of 2008. Remember, we're dealing with the same politician who told Ohio voters that he would renegotiate NAFTA. Not only has he refused to renegotiate, he has gone around the world to promote even worse sell-outs of American workers. Barack Obama is, in short, a proven liar. Just because he says the right words doesn't mean he is the right man.

Added note: There's a lot of talk about TR in pundit-land these days. Krugman likes to point out that today's Republicans aren't content with reversing the New Deal -- they want to go back to the era before Progressive reforms. We can't get back to "Eisenhower normal" if half this country operates under the ludicrous delusion that America was doing just fine until guys like Teddy screwed up everything.
Comments:
Wow! Somebody must have told the emperor he has no clothes.

Too bad he's a day late and a dollar short.
 
Thanks, Joseph. I too remained unimpressed by the "new" Obama--seeing this as just an empty attempt to impress those progressives who have fallen away. Sadly, I also regard the State Department's new emphasis on gay rights as a cynical play for the progressive vote. Postponing the Keystone XL decision until after the election was an attempt to secure environmentalist votes--I have every expectation that Obama will approve it shortly after his reelection. I suspect that we'll see much more similar pandering before the election.

We should all take to heart those immortal words:
"fool me once, shame on--shame on you. Fool me--You can't get fooled again."
 
We need a REAL Teddy R to step up!!! If all the "third party" dreamers could find someone to dust off the Bull Moose party, Teddy actually made a new party that worked, at least for him. (On a hilarious note, the CEO of Exxon gave the commencement speech at my son's college and romantically named Teddy as his favorite president. We guessed it wasn't his trust-busting fervor that was the "favorite" part.)

As for Zero's non-antiwar stance, a ton of us were trying to point that out to those huffing the hopium in 2008. The O-fluffers flogged one antiwar comment made to a small crowd, but that wasn't even caught on tape. They really spun it with absolutely no evidence.

We can never remind them enough how much they projected onto their OMessiah, especially as they fall again for the campaign rhetoric.
 
Obama can't be trusted as far as one can throw him. I refuse to vote for him next year, given his absolute hostility toward public education.

This is bedrock, people. If you don't support public education and engage in a relentless attack on the teaching profession, you don't support democracy. I don't want a "Democrat" in there who doesn't support it.

Education is only one issue of many where Obama has failed as a president and as a Democrat.

I am writing in Elizabeth Warren next November.
 
Spot on, Joseph! TR had many admirable qualities pressed against silly macho and despicable supremacist positions. To be fair, TR was a man of his times.

But one of the things the struck me about TR's Kansas speech [and yes, I've read it] was his clear condemnation of rabid financiers and that 'words count for nothing except in so far as they represent acts.'

This is something Obama has never and will never understand. His 2008 'just words' speech [a steal from an earlier Deval Patrick speech] says it all--the man ascribes to flapping his lips, and then leaving the stage. Something else TR said was that progress is dependent on the destruction of special privileges.

Hahahaha! Wake me up when the 'O' man takes that one up! Reading the Obama script, you might think there were no laws on the books to bring the Beast of Wall St. to heel. Au Contraire! The rules/laws are on the books. The will to enforce is not.

The speech [IMHO] was a cynical attempt to rebrand Obama as the New Populist. Considering the lame and/or crazed group of candidates the GOP has trotted out it just may work because the electorate may support the Devil they know over the one they don't.

Peggy Sue
 
Obama reminds me of an abusive spouse. After he seduces you with his charm and tells you exactly what you want to hear, he beats you and reveals himself someone other than who you thought he was. Now, he's in the "make up" phase where he'll bring you more lovely words, charm and flowers, and unfortunately, too many will be seduced all over again. Obama is an empty, hollow and craven abuser.
 
I missed the 2004 speech to the DNC. But because of all the PR, I paid attention to his first senate speech. He talked about the war - how we shouldn't look back and think of how we got there, but forward to what to do now to "win". That's when I knew about the "fairy tale"
 
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