'Make-or-break' for middle class

US President Barack Obama 6 December 2011 President Barack Obama evoked the memory of a Republican icon in Tuesday's speech in Kansas

Barack Obama's campaign for re-election has just cranked up a notch.

The US president has gone to Kansas to make a big economic speech, saying this is a make or break moment for the American middle class and that the ongoing debate about tax is "the defining issue of our time".

It sets the stage for a 2012 battle between two very different economic visions.

Mr Obama said the battle would be about "reclaiming American values".

He has condemned his Republican opponents for what he called "you're on your own economics" and said that the trickle-down theory - that when the rich get richer so does everybody else - "has never worked".

His speech was thin on details of anything new but he said it was important "everyone gets a fair shot - plays by the same rules".

Mr Obama deliberately made the speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, to echo Teddy Roosevelt's call for a "New Nationalism" in 1910.

He said Roosevelt was the son of a wealthy family but knew the "free market was not a free licence to take whatever you can, where ever you can".

Roosevelt, Mr Obama said, broke up monopolies and set out policies that led to a progressive income tax and worker protection.

Wilderness worries

But it is a little odd that the White House wants comparisons to be made.

It is true: Roosevelt's was an important and memorable speech. He coined the phrase "a square deal", which still resonates today.

Theodore Roosevelt undated file picture Theodore Roosevelt advocated progressive social policies as president

It allowed Mr Obama to make the point he is not the first politician to be attacked in strong terms, acknowledging that Roosevelt was condemned at the time as "communistic" and "socialistic".

He did not mention it sparked a newspaper debate about whether Roosevelt was a maniac or merely ignorant.

But that is not what is odd about celebrating this speech. It set the ex-president on a noble path to eventual oblivion.

The Republican Roosevelt was one of the great presidents of the last century. But the speech was made after he had left office.

It marked his break with the Republican party and the beginning of his campaign for the presidency in 1912 as the Progressive Party candidate. He lost.

Mr Obama will not want to follow the Bull Moose into the wilderness but the historical references will pass most people by.

What he has done is attempt to frame the debate that will dominate next year: suggesting he is the defender of fairness for the middle class and casting his opponents as the champions of unfair privilege.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

More on This Story

US Presidential Election 2012


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Mardell: It set the ex-president on a noble path to eventual oblivion

    President Obama's economic policy has not been impressive

    He said he was going to let Bush tax cuts expire+then he renewed them
    He said he was going to do universal health care+ then he did health care w/ mandate

    President Obama has not done the right things needed to save USA economy b/c he has the wrong agenda

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Both Dems+Repubs are the party of the Rich

    To me, neither one represents the Middle class

    Both sides are lobbied by the same corporations

    Its like there's no difference

    And when they do agree on something- thats when you have to really worry

    President Obama wants us to believe the Dems are better than the Repubs but in many ways, they are both the same

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    So, basically, USA got the highest technology on earth, the highest quality of education, the most skilled workers and scientists, most knowledge and sophisticated researches, and yet, with all the knowledge and resources it's got, it's not easy for it to have a system that guarantess the welfare of all people.
    Am I supposed to believe this?
    Wasn't cage they have in the Middle East big enough?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    President Obama has got a good point. The Middle Class are endangered and many are falling into poverty. Manufacturing gone, no wage increases and exorbitant Health Care costs have been taking a toll on the workers for three decades. It is about time someone at least tried to represent the people. Pity he cant do anything about the caliber of out politicians in the House & Congress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Unlike Republicans, Democrats believe government has role to play beside national defense.The key, is striking a balance between a constructive role and government's intrusion in our lives. Republicans believe in no business regulations while Democrats wants some regulation to check business excesses and abuse. Government is good when it benefits the rich but bad when it benefits the poor.


Comments 5 of 357


This entry is now closed for comments


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.