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Read the full text of President Obama's economic speech in Kansas

December 06, 2011

But, 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.  
 
Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia.  After all that's happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess.  In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years.  And their philosophy is simple:  We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.  

I am here to say they are wrong.  (Applause.)  I'm here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we're greater together than we are on our own.  I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules.  (Applause.)  These aren't Democratic values or Republican values.  These aren't 1 percent values or 99 percent values.  They're American values.  And we have to reclaim them.  (Applause.)   

You see, this isn't the first time America has faced this choice.  At the turn of the last century, when a nation of farmers was transitioning to become the world's industrial giant, we had to decide:  Would we settle for a country where most of the new railroads and factories were being controlled by a few giant monopolies that kept prices high and wages low?  Would we allow our citizens and even our children to work ungodly hours in conditions that were unsafe and unsanitary?  Would we restrict education to the privileged few?  Because there were people who thought massive inequality and exploitation of people was just the price you pay for progress.  

Theodore Roosevelt disagreed.  He was the Republican son of a wealthy family.  He praised what the titans of industry had done to create jobs and grow the economy.  He believed then what we know is true today, that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history.  It's led to a prosperity and a standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.  

But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you can from whomever you can.  (Applause.)  He understood the free market only works when there are rules of the road that ensure competition is fair and open and honest.  And so he busted up monopolies, forcing those companies to compete for consumers with better services and better prices.  And today, they still must.  He fought to make sure businesses couldn't profit by exploiting children or selling food or medicine that wasn't safe.  And today, they still can't.    
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.”  (Applause.)   

Now, for this, Roosevelt was called a radical.  He was called a socialist -- (laughter) -- even a communist.  But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for in his last campaign:  an eight-hour work day and a minimum wage for women -- (applause) -- insurance for the unemployed and for the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.  (Applause.)

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