So What did TR Say in Osawatomie?

From Ralph Hipp

Reaction rolled in after President Obama's speech in Osawatomie this week, and we're seeing some of the impact his words are having, about being fair, by having the wealthy and middle class play by the same rules.  That reaction has ranged from Rush Limbaugh saying "it's not the Republicans fault the economy is in trouble, it's Obama's fault.." to others saying on Twitter it may have been Mr. Obama's most significant speech on the economy during his 3-year Presidency.

One CNN web article was headlined as saying Teddy Roosevelt may be Barack Obama's best campaign friend in 2012.  So it got me wondering about that earlier famous Presidential speech in Osawatomie, and the tone of TR's speech to the much larger crowd that day in Miami County.

I am turning to Lewis Gould, the author of "Four Hats in the Ring," about the interesting race of 1912 and the attempted return of Teddy Roosevelt to the political scene.  Mr. Gould says in his book,

"Roosevelt began his campaign with a speech in Denver on August 29, 1910.  He had long resented the way courts had imposed limits on the ability of the federal government to conduct regulation of business through executive agencies.  He now charged that federal and state courts had "tended by a series of negative decisions to create a sphere in which neither nation nor state has effective control; and where the great business interests that can call to their aid the ability of the greater corporation lawyers escape all control whatsoever."  Since such rulings were "fundamentally hostile to every species of real popular government, " he argued that the people, through their elected officials, should "have complete power of control in all matters that affect the public interest."  For conservative Republicans (including TR's own choice for the White House at the time) William Howard Taft, Roosevelt's attack on the judiciary seemed radical and dangerous."

"At Osawatomie, two days later, Roosevelt confirmed the fears of traditional Republicans and enlighted the party's progressive wing.  Speaking in commemoration of John Brown and his role in Kansas before the Civil War, Teddy Roosevelt showed how far his political ideology had evolved.  He called the address "The New Nationalism," a phrase he borrowed from author Herbert Croly, whose book, "The Promise of American Life," (from 1909) echoed Roosevelt's thinking on social problems.  Some 30,000 people heard Roosevelt enumerate a program of government activism more sweeping that what any major Republicans or Democrats had proposed before him.  His remarks addressed the influence of corporations on politics, asked for revision of the tariff by experts, and called for legislation to provide workmen's compensation and regulation of child labor.  His summary statement moved well beyond his previous positions on the role of government embodied in the "Square Deal" of his first presidential term.  "I stand for the square deal," he said, "But when I say that I am for the square deal, 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 so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service."

"A key element  in his proposal was the role of the President.  "This New Nationalism," he went on, "regards the executive power as the steward of the public welfare."  A president must be even more of a champion of reform than Roosevelt had been before 1909.  He had words for the judiciary, too.  Judges must be "interested primarily in human welfare rather than in property," while legislatures at every level should "represent all the people rather than any one class or section of people."

So I'm back now.. in reading that, you can see the White House did their homework in channeling this message for modern times.  Remind you, Theodore Roosevelt was already out of the White House trying to get back in when he made this speech in Osawatomie.  And he failed to garner the support through the Progressive Party in 1912 to win.  Here we have this message re-tooled for 2012.  And another year from now, we'll find out if this message will be strong enough to keep Barack Obama in the White House.  If that's what most Americans want.      Ralph

"Four Hats in Ring," by Lewis L. Gould is published through University Press of Kansas.

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