The Two-Way
6:40 am
Tue December 6, 2011

Before Obama Invites Teddy Roosevelt Comparisons, Read TR's Words

Originally published on Tue December 6, 2011 1:01 pm

As NPR's Scott Horsley reported for Morning Edition:

"President Obama will try Tuesday to follow in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt when he delivers an economic speech in Osawatomie, Kan., the same city where Roosevelt issued a famous call for a 'New Nationalism' more than 100 years ago.

"For Obama, this is a 'connect-the-dots' speech. White House spokesman Jay Carney said it's a chance to show how the president's various economic proposals — from stricter banking oversight to payroll tax cuts — fit together, as Obama prepares for a re-election battle."

Roosevelt's speech — delivered after he had left the White House and as he was beginning a bid to return there on the Bull Moose Party ticket (he didn't succeed) — has become known for his words about "the square deal."

"I stand for the square deal," Roosevelt said. "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. If a man who has had a chance will not make good, then he has got to quit."

The former president was speaking, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, at a memorial ceremony for abolitionist John Brown. Many Civil War veterans were among the 30,000 or so people there.

As the center says, the address was "the most important speech" of Roosevelt's political career, according to historian Kathleen Dalton. Roosevelt, the center writes, "proclaimed himself for workman's compensation, labor laws to protect women and children, a graduated income tax and an inheritance tax. It put some of his most radical ideas out into the world for all to hear and changed the course of American political history."

The full text of Roosevelt's words is posted here. We don't want to assign homework, but thought some Two-Way readers might want to see it before Obama's scheduled 2 p.m. ET address. (Correction at 11:30 a.m. ET: earlier, we said the address was set for 1 p.m. ET.)

Here are a few more excerpts from Roosevelt's speech. In some ways, his words have been echoed by many Occupy Wall Street protesters:

-- "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. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. 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."

-- "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."

-- "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."

-- "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. Again, comrades over there, take the lesson from your own experience. Not only did you not grudge, but you gloried in the promotion of the great generals who gained their promotion by leading their army to victory. So it is with us. 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."

-- "The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to the public welfare. Understand what I say there. Give him a chance, not push him up if he will not be pushed. Help any man who stumbles; if he lies down, it is a poor job to try to carry him; but if he is a worthy man, try your best to see that he gets a chance to show the worth that is in him."

-- "I do not ask for the over centralization; but I do ask that we work in a spirit of broad and far-reaching nationalism where we work for what concerns our people as a whole. We are all Americans. Our common interests are as broad as the continent. I speak to you here in Kansas exactly as I would speak in New York or Georgia, for the most vital problems are those which affect us all alike. The National Government belongs to the whole American people, and where the whole American people are interested, that interest can be guarded effectively only by the National Government. The betterment which we seek must be accomplished, I believe, mainly through the National Government."

-- "The American people are right in demanding that New Nationalism, without which we cannot hope to deal with new problems. The New Nationalism puts the national need before sectional or personal advantage."

Update at 3 p.m. ET. Obama's Speech:

We've added a separate post wrapping up the president's speech.

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