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Obama’s New Nationalism

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by Conn Carroll Senior Editorial Writer

Today, in Osawatomie, Kansas, President Obama will invoke Teddy Roosevelt as a model for his 2012 reelection campaign. Over 100 years ago, after leaving the White House, Roosevelt delivered a seminal speech, titled “The New Nationalism,” which would become the foundation for the Progressive Party he would later create to challenge President Taft’s reelection. Obama plans to identify with those same progressive roots today as he calls for higher taxes on the rich and more government control of the economy.

At the White House press briefing yesterday, spokesman Jay Carney said Obama, “Thinks it’s an opportune time and an opportune location to try to put into broader perspective the kind of debates we’ve been having and the issues that are of vital importance to give middle-class Americans the kind of fair shot that they deserve.” Obama will no doubt echo Roosevelt’s call for a “equality of opportunity” and recycle the speech’s “square deal” rhetoric.

But while there are many parts of Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech that will sound great to modern ears, there are also many passages that will grate on independent voters:

Combinations in industry are the result of an imperative economic law which cannot be repealed by political legislation. The effort at prohibiting all combination has substantially failed. The way out lies, not in attempting to prevent such combinations, but in completely controlling them in the interest of the public welfare.

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.

These words are as radical today as they were 100 years ago. When text of Roosevelt’s New Nationalism reached New York, The New York Times called it “Roosevelt’s Super-Socialism.” Don’t count on that paper using a similar description of Obama’s speech today.

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