Tuesday, December 6, 2011

President Obama in Osawatomie: "We shall go up or down together"

President Obama gave an important speech today in Osawatomie, Kansas. And I'm sure it laid the foundation for his re-election campaign. There are those who will claim it set a new tone or delivered a new message. But for those of us who have been paying close attention all along - the truth is - we've heard it before.

Of course, there were some new additions that reflect our current situation. If the Occupiers didn't hear affirmation of their overall message about the problem of growing inequality in this country - they're simply too jaded to pay attention.

We simply cannot return to this brand of “you’re on your own” economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and in its future. We know it doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citizens.

Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year. I’m not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I’m saying people who make a million dollars every single year...

Now, this kind of inequality -- a level that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression -- hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom...

Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder...

But there’s an even more fundamental issue at stake. This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: that this is a place where you can make it if you try. We tell people -- we tell our kids -- that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, work hard and you can get into the middle class. We tell them that your children will have a chance to do even better than you do.

Then he returns to the issues we heard him lay out this year in the State of the Union speech in regards to education, innovation and infrastructure. And here's how he ended:

Our success has never just been about survival of the fittest. It’s about building a nation where we’re all better off. We pull together. We pitch in. We do our part. We believe that hard work will pay off, that responsibility will be rewarded, and that our children will inherit a nation where those values live on.

And it is that belief that rallied thousands of Americans to Osawatomie -- maybe even some of your ancestors -- on a rain-soaked day more than a century ago. By train, by wagon, on buggy, bicycle, on foot, they came to hear the vision of a man who loved this country and was determined to perfect it.

“We are all Americans,” Teddy Roosevelt told them that day. “Our common interests are as broad as the continent.” In the final years of his life, Roosevelt took that same message all across this country, from tiny Osawatomie to the heart of New York City, believing that no matter where he went, no matter who he was talking to, everybody would benefit from a country in which everyone gets a fair chance.

And well into our third century as a nation, we have grown and we’ve changed in many ways since Roosevelt’s time. The world is faster and the playing field is larger and the challenges are more complex. But what hasn’t changed -- what can never change -- are the values that got us this far. We still have a stake in each other’s success. We still believe that this should be a place where you can make it if you try. And we still believe, in the words of the man who called for a New Nationalism all those years ago, “The fundamental rule of our national life,” he said, “the rule which underlies all others -- is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.” And I believe America is on the way up.
(Emphasis mine)

I could fill pages with citations of President Obama coming back over and over to this theme. But I'll just give you one. It happens to come from his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in 2008.

What -- what is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours -- ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.

That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.
(Emphasis mine)

I say all this because there are times when President Obama's critics (on both the left and right) accuse him of not having convictions or principles that guide him. What they usually mean by that is that he's not an ideologue who has purity tests related to particular policies. But what he lays out over and over again are these kinds of values that underlie what he expects of himself as well as us...that whether we like it or not, we're all in this together. And yes, we ARE our brother's/sister's keeper.


  1. Thanks smartypants! Brilliant analysis of PObama's speech in Osawatomie.

    The critics(read professional whiners)on the left and the right make up shyte as they go along. They never get anything right.

  2. I'm not "anonymous"..my name is Cha but your blog won't take my google account so this is the way I have to go..I'll do it.

  3. Welcome to the 2012 campaign.. The President’s speech was EPIC! It's on & poppin!

  4. Good Morning
    If ever there was a consistent, honest, politician focused on the people's welfare...his name is President Obama!

    TV pundits, PL and many average citizens consistently distort his message. The pundits (Norah O'Donnell, Chris Matthews, Ron Reagan) and even Ed Shultz to some extent don't seem to reacognize the difference between a historic policy speech and a press conference. Their complaint was "he didnt offer specifics". Jeez, how dumb/incompetent or devious can they be?