Wednesday, December 07, 2011

President Obama Goes Progressive Invoking The Spirit of The Father of Progressivism: Teddy Roosevelt

I’ve said this many times before, but it’s worth repeating: Teddy Roosevelt was the last of the great Lincoln Republicans. If today’s liberal Democrats were transported in time to August 31, 1910 when President Theodore Roosevelt visited Osawatomie, Kansas and laid out his vision for a “new nationalism,” we would be Roosevelt Republicans. Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, pays homage to his foundational hero, Abraham Lincoln. The emphasis in Roosevelt's excerpted speech is mine:
"Of that generation of men to whom we owe so much, the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said:

"I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind."

And again:

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

If that remark was original with me, I should be even more strongly denounced as a Communist agitator than I shall be anyhow. It is Lincoln’s. I am only quoting it; and that is one side; that is the side the capitalist should hear. Now, let the working man hear his side.

"Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. . . . Nor should this lead to a war upon the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor; . . . property is desirable; is a positive good in the world."

And then comes a thoroughly Lincoln-like sentence:

"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."

It seems to me that, in these words, Lincoln took substantially the attitude that we ought to take; he showed the proper sense of proportion in his relative estimates of capital and labor, of human rights and property rights. Above all, in this speech, as in many others, he taught a lesson in wise kindliness and charity; an indispensable lesson to us of today. But this wise kindliness and charity never weakened his arm or numbed his heart. We cannot afford weakly to blind ourselves to the actual conflict which faces us today. The issue is joined, and we must fight or fail."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, defines what today’s phony Republicans call “class warfare”:
"In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity … One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to 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. That is what you fought for in the Civil War, and that is what we strive for now."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, defines what it is to be a “progressive” and why liberals (defined broadly as those of us who believe government has an indispensable role in achieving a more perfect Union for all) embrace and honor the name as part and parcel of the liberal ideal:
"At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. 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. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth. That is nothing new. All I ask in civil life is what you fought for in the Civil War."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, lays down the markers for which progressives are still fighting today, against the forces of ignorance, reaction, and accumulated wealth and power to game the system in their narrow, special interests and privilege:
"Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. 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. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled."
Here, Franklin Delano’s cousin Teddy, the Lincoln Republican, defines the “square deal” which was the precursor and cousin of the New Deal:
"I stand for the square deal. 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. One word of warning, which, I think, is hardly necessary in Kansas. 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."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, says what he means: “We must drive the special interests out of politics.” He also warns the five right wing extremists on the Supreme Court of what the people know instinctively, and what the Court has codified into law as a cudgel for the rich, the privileged, the special interests, to bludgeon the people’s democracy: “The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.”
"Now, this means that our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now 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. That is one of our tasks today. Every special interest is entitled to justice — full, fair, and complete — and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, explains the importance of regulation, which the ante-Lincoln phony “Republicans” of our day want to do away with, in the pocket and service of the rich and the corporations:
"The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, explains why even well-meaning corporate titans must be properly regulated by government because they cannot possibly compete against greed and a dog-eat-dog race to the bottom unless all are made to comply with the same rules of the road — which means safe consumer products, untainted food, and oil and coal exploration which does not pollute our environment and our drinking water. And should they break the law, that they be held liable:
"It is my personal belief that the same kind and degree of control and supervision which should be exercised over public-service corporations should be extended also to combinations which control necessaries of life, such as meat, oil, or coal, or which deal in them on an important scale. I have no doubt that the ordinary man who has control of them is much like ourselves. I have no doubt he would like to do well, but I want to have enough supervision to help him realize that desire to do well.

I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, echoes the principal theme of the Occupy Wall Street movement — “We Are the 99%” — anticipating the economic crisis of 2007-2008 in which the “absence of effective state, and, especially national restraint upon unfair money-getting” (Wall Street gambling with our retirement income on exotic unregulated financial instruments, including bad real estate loans) heightened income inequality, promoting “a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.”
"The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. …We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, argues for a progressive income tax in which the rich pay their fair share, including an inheritance tax — today called the “death tax” by the Orwellian wordsmiths of the (G)ods (O)f (P)rivilege, for whom the Paris Hilton tax cut benefiting fewer than 7,000 of the richest of the rich households is unalterable in a nation of more than 300 million people:
"No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered — not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective — a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate."
Here Teddy Roosevelt, the Lincoln Republican, calls for strong financial institutions oversight; a system enacted by his cousin FDR in the New Deal, with creation of the SEC and FDIC, among other reforms, leading to ever-increasing prosperity for the middle class; today’s fake Republicans aim to dismantle it, including the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, proclaimed by the candidates as if it’s a badge of honor.
"The people of the United States suffer from periodical financial panics to a degree substantially unknown to the other nations, which approach us in financial strength. There is no reason why we should suffer what they escape. It is of profound importance that our financial system should be promptly investigated, and so thoroughly and effectively revised as to make it certain that hereafter our currency will no longer fail at critical times to meet our needs."
Teddy Roosevelt defined progressivism. But when he broke with the ascendant business wing of the Republican Party to launch the most successful third party bid in American history, for the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, he precipitated the first modern realignment of the two major parties. After Teddy lost the three-way race, contributing to Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s victory over conservative business Republican, third-place finisher William Howard Taft, Roosevelt’s progressive base left the Republican Party, eventually finding a home in the Democratic Party. They were to become the progressive core, the driving force of FDR’s New Deal. Teddy’s cousin Franklin picked up the flag, enacting many of the reforms Teddy Roosevelt had envisioned in his Osawatomie speech.

The second great realignment of the parties occurred following the enactment of the Kennedy-Johnson transformative Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964-65. The southern Democrats bolted the Democratic Party en masse to pledge their allegiance to the Republican Party. These “Dixiecrats,” had long been an albatross around the necks of liberal Democrats, as exemplified by Strom Thurmond’s clash with Truman over the party’s civil rights platform leading to his 1948 independent bid for president. On the Republican side, this realingment had been percolating for some time as well. It came to a head when Barry Goldwater came out against the Kennedy-Johnson civil rights legislation. Goldwater’s thrashing by LBJ in 1964 in which he only carried his home state of Arizona and five states in the Deep South — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina — was instructive for right wing Republican strategists. By opposing civil rights legislation, Goldwater had garnered the racist southern white vote, which has become a staple of GOP presidential politics ever since. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” consolidated the South as a Republican stronghold, and Reagan further refined the strategy with code language and pregnant racist symbolism, such as kicking off his official post-convention campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the murder of three civil rights workers.

The Republican Party has effectively been transformed into a modern, southern confederate party. So when Rachel argues here that President Obama’s Teddy Roosevelt speech in Osawatomie was a return to his 2004 “Blue States-Red-States-We’re-All-The-United-States” Cumbaya rhetoric, I must respectfully disagree:

The reality is, never the twain shall meet. Racists and southern white right wing reactionaries will always vote Republican. President Obama was sharpening the differences, invoking the last of the great Lincoln Republicans, to drive home the point to the vast unwashed electorate in the middle — so-called “independents” really, an oxymoron — to consider what is it in historical, moral, and principled terms they’re voting for when they pull that “R” lever.

This was Teddy Roosevelt’s vision as excerpted here, in part, and paid homage to by the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Echoing Teddy Roosevelt — We cannot afford weakly to blind ourselves to the actual conflict which faces us today. The issue is joined, and we must fight or fail." — President Obama declared yesterday in Osawatomie:
This is not just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what’s at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement. ... And in 1910, Teddy Roosevelt came here to Osawatomie and he laid out his vision for what he called a New Nationalism. “Our country,” he said, “…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”
Chris Matthews hosted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the award-winning book Team of Rivals about Lincoln and his cabinet, to speak of her next project, Teddy Roosevelt:

Teddy Roosevelt, in his own words: "We stand for a living wage." What a radical concept!

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