(CNSNews.com) – Invoking former President Teddy Roosevelt, President Barack Obama quoted the Republican president who said in 1910, “‘The fundamental rule in our national life – the rule which underlies all others – is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.”
“Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefitted from that success,” Obama said in a speech in Osawatomie, Kan., the same city where Roosevelt delivered a speech in 1910. “Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before.”
Obama said the country’s economy is experiencing changes similar to that of the early 20th century. He said the philosophy of Republicans in Congress is, “we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.”
“Well, I’m here to say they are wrong. I’m here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own,” Obama said. “I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules.”
Obama said, “This isn’t just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time.” He added, “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, and secure their retirement.”
Roosevelt was among the first prominent leaders of the progressive movement that called for government to intervene in the economy at a time when there was no income tax; no child labor laws and monopolies were unrestricted by anti-trust laws. Nevertheless, Obama compared this era to the present day.
“Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can,” Obama said. “It only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest, and so he busted up monopolies, forcing those companies to compete for customers 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,” he added.
“For this, Roosevelt was called a radical, a socialist, 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; insurance for the unemployed, the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax,” Obama continued.
“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,” he said.
Obama said it is more difficult to make it into the middle class.
“And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class.”
He said business not government will create a middle class, but stressed that government has a role.
“Today, thanks to loopholes and shelters, a quarter of all millionaires now pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as one percent,” Obama said. “This is the height of unfairness. It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay a higher tax rate than somebody pulling in $50 million.”