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
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
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.