Friday, December 9, 2011

Obama, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dylan Ratigan's Rant?

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Bear with me here, readers. Consider Ratigan's rant and the advice that he gave to President Barack Obama during an August show, and then consider Obama's December 6th "Teddy Roosevelt speech."

I haven't had much time to watch TV this semester or pay attention to politics. I avoid politics in particular lately because I don't want to get sucked into the insanity of responding to crazy, frequently racist people. For instance, I wouldn't want to be drawn into explaining to a Rush Limbaugh supporter why his calling Michelle Obama "uppity" is in historical context a racist remark. Who needs the headache? But sometimes, I will look up and talk politics a bit. For example, I had to say something about the Herman Cain fiasco.

And today I feel compelled to talk about a clip I saw on Facebook posted by poet Taalam Acey. The clip shows MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan blowing up during his Mega Panel on his own show in August. Taalam posted the YouTube video, but I've posted the official clip from MSNBC. (I also have the YouTube clip at the end of this post in case the MSNBC one doesn't work sometimes.)

Ratigan sounds like he means what he says. He's passionate, so passionate that at some moments it looks like he's going to have a stroke during his rant about a "bought Congress" and its failure to act and find solutions for the United States economy, but I've gotten to the point where I'm cynical about ranting pundits. I wonder how much of the passion we see sometimes is real and how much is motivated by a desire for ratings. Still, if this guy is acting here, then he should skip politics and move on to Hollywood. He seems sincere.

I agree with a lot of what he says, but his overuse of the word extraction and the steam coming out of his ears makes me question some of his rhetoric. What does he mean when he says, "... the United States of America is being extracted"? He continues:
It’s being extracted through banking, it’s being extracted through trade, and it’s being extracted through taxation, and there’s not a single politician that has stepped forward ... to deal with this"
His inclusion of taxation throws me off. Does he mean that America is being extracted through taxes because eventually tax dollars must be used to pay China for our debt? Does he mean that due to political corruption many of our tax dollars go to silly earmarks and pork barrel projects? Is he anti-taxes or did he misspeak and means instead that America is being extracted by game playing over taxation? And what does he think the word extraction means in these instances?

In any case, after his diatribe and his blaming the whole system, Ratigan still declares that Obama, only one man, can fix this monstrous mess. He thinks that if Obama would simply go to the American people and shout like Ratigan does himself in this video, I guess, that people will wake up and get behind a system overhaul. Here's what Ratigan said in August that Obama should do:
I would like him to go to the people of the United States of America and say, “People of the United States of America, your Congress is bought, your Congress is incapable of making legislation on healthcare, banking, trade, or taxes because if they do it, they will lose their political funding and they won’t do it. But I’m the President of the United States, and I won’t have a country that is run by a bought Congress. So I’m not going to work with a bought Congress and try to be Mr. Big Guy, ‘I’m working with a bought Congress’, I’m going to abandon the bought Congress like Teddy Roosevelt did, and I’m going to go to the people of the United States and I’m going to say, ‘You’ve got a bought Congress,” and until we get rid of the bought Congress, which is Jimmy Williams constant point, which is get the money out of politics, and until a President says that’s the problem and says he’s going to fix it, there is no policy that I can possibly see no matter how brilliant your idea may be or your idea or my idea or her idea or your idea at home, is that idea will not happen as long as there’s a capacity to basically fire a politician who disagrees with me by taking funding away from him. Is that a fair assessment?
When Ratigan says Jimmy Williams, he's speaking of a guy on his panel who says, "Money in politics is the root of all political evil. It is corruption at its worst. And until we step up and kick that out of the park, it’s going to be the same system all the way."

Ratigan responds to Williams, "And only the President can do that." But Williams disagrees, "No, no, no, Congress has to do it, too. Congress has to do it, too."

Anyway, I zeroed in on Ratigan's mention of Roosevelt because of analysis I've heard of Obama's December 6h speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. Pundits and political analysts are calling it his "Teddy Roosevelt speech," and so, watching Ratigan, I wondered if Obama's advisers had also seen the rant and decided, "Hmm. Let's take another look at Roosevelt's speeches."

As I said at the outset, I have not been paying close attention to politics lately, but I do recall hearing about Obama's Kansas speech as I prepared for bed Tuesday night. I think I heard someone on CNN's Anderson Cooper show saying that with Obama's emphasis on economic fairness during the speech, he was invoking Teddy Roosevelt's 1910 speech that was also delivered in Osawatomie.

Here is video of the president.

Looking up commentary on the speech today, I found the Roosevelt theme mentioned in multiple articles. Here are some links:
  • NPR's New Republic, "Are We Misreading Obama's Speech" — The ghost of Theodore Roosevelt palpably presided over President Obama's speech yesterday afternoon in Osawatomie, Kansas. Indeed, in the week leading up to the president's Osawatomie address, the White House made clear that the President was deliberately courting analogies with Roosevelt. TR, after all, had traveled to the very same town nearly 100 years earlier to give his famous "New Nationalism" address, calling for the federal government to ensure that the prerogatives of private property did not trump the rights of the commonwealth.
  • Forbes, "Obama, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Politics of 'Fairness'"The president traveled to Osawatomie, Kansas, to give a speech that is similar in tone and content to Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 “New Nationalism” speech delivered in the same town, and considered by many to be his most left-leaning address—that is, Roosevelt’s, but it’s probably just as true of Obama.
  • John Avalon @ CNN, "Why Obama is listening to Teddy Roosevelt for 2012"-- Confession: I'm a Teddy Roosevelt nerd. And apparently President Obama is as well. ... The town of Osawatomie, Kansas, was chosen as the location of a major speech Tuesday framing the 2012 election as a "a make-or-break moment for the middle class," what the president described as "the defining issue of our time."
  • CNN, "Obama channels Roosevelt's 'New Nationalism'"—More than a century after Teddy Roosevelt's famous "New Nationalism" address, President Barack Obama sounded similar themes Tuesday in the same town in the Republican heartland of Kansas, delivering a populist speech that called for extending the payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of the year.
  • Opinion @Fox News, "Obama's Hypocritical, Incoherent, and Unpresidential Economic Speech"—Hypocritical, incoherent, and unpresidential. Other than that it was a good speech. ... Tuesday, President Obama traveled to Osawatomie, Kansas, the same small town in Kansas where, in 1910, Teddy Roosevelt delivered one of his most famous speeches calling for a “new nationalism.”
  • The Dylan Ratigan Show, "This is No Time for Political Pro Wrestling – We Need 30 Million Jobs!"—Yesterday, President Obama today tried his best to invoke Teddy Roosevelt as he defended the largest bank bailout in history, all while he attempting to invoke income inequality as political rhetoric heading into election year. ... Right in line with the “pro wrestling” screenplay, Republicans spent the day slamming the Democrats’ so-called compromise attempts on the payroll tax extension.
As you may gather from listening to the president's speech or from reading the official transcript at, his words are not the indictment that Ratigan hoped for in August (The president doesn't declare that our Congress has been bought and is corrupt), but the speech definitely sounds Teddy-Roosevelt-inspired.

Thinking about Ratigan's wish that Obama would indict Congress, I considered at the White House website the ticking clock at the top of the webpage. It lays any failure to renew tax breaks for the middle class soundly at Congress's feet.


Click the picture for larger image.

If you visit now, you can also click a link that takes you to a calculator that lets you figure how much more you will pay in taxes if "Congress doesn't act." When you get to that page, there's a September 8, 2011 quote from the president saying, "If we refuse to act, middle class families will get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time." It's from his American Jobs Act speech to Congress.

The clock imagery is aimed at Republicans, mostly. As a CBS news article explains, Obama is pressuring Republicans "to extend the Social Security payroll tax cut holiday, which is set to expire at the end of the year if no action is taken." The tendency of presidents to blame a Congress controlled by the opposition for economic disaster is not new, however, nor is it a tendency that began with Roosevelt.

In his Kansas speech, Obama emphasized fairness and decried that some of the USA's wealthier citizens pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than poor people. Billionaire Warren Buffett has discussed this inequality as well, saying that he's willing to pay more in taxes. So, Obama is not saying anything extremely radical. Nevertheless, will anyone listen to the president? If history provides an answer, then Obama may be on shaky ground. Ken Walsh at USA Today writes that invoking Teddy Roosevelt may be a "bad omen" for the Obama presidency. Teddy "[lost] his bid to return to the White House in 1912" after his call for economic fairness.

Walsh sees that history as a lesson for Obama, but I see it as a lesson for us. Yes, Teddy Roosevelt lost the election in 1912 after calling for fairness (TR didn't run in 2008). Walsh says he lost in 1912 "amid charges that he was a demagogue who favored a vast over-reach in federal power." Well, that sounds familiar, doesn't it? Those kinds of charges ring daily against President Obama, usually followed by the accusation that he's a socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth. But need I remind us that because America did not listen to Roosevelt, it continued its love affair with the greedy and its denial that stark economic inequality spells trouble (French Revolution, anyone)? Less than 20 years after the electorate rejected Roosevelt and his message, the United States of America entered the Great Depression.

Do we have even that many years before our plunge this time?

I must invoke a name now as well, that of philosopher George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And then I must also consider a variation on that theme with a quote from poet Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang, "History does not repeat itself. / It merely quotes us / when we have not been wise enough."

In case the MSNBC video doesn't work, here's the YouTube video of Ratigan's rant.


msladydeborah said...

I am not going to get into this comment too deep. I watched the rant and it took me to the film Network. My favorite scene is when Howard finally has enough of the news he's been reporting and he declares everyone should go to their windows and yell, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more".

At this point in time, I am pretty much fed up with this particular Congress. They basically are deadlocked and it is hurting the people of this nation. I also sincerely believe that there is a reality about the job of POTUS. You either get one term or you serve two. I happen to believe that Congressional folks should only serve a limited term after watching these currents reps in action. It seems the longer that they are seated, the more likely it becomes for them to be bought by lobbyist.

At this point in time, it looks like we are going to have to do some pushing from the sidelines to make both sides realize that enough is just that--enough!

Great post!

images and pictures said...

cool posts

reelickj said...

Thomas Jefferson Said; "God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.
The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is
wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts
they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions,
it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ...
And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not
warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of
resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as
to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost
in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from
time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
It is its natural manure."

I am not an advocate of blood shed, but, I see no other way, when those of authority have weapons of mass destruction pointed at "We the People"

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Reelickj: I was going to delete your unrelated comment on my post, but I've decided to leave it up in case the FBI is cruising along my blog and would like to contact Google to find out your IP address. When people say they are
not advocates of blood shed but see no other way," I place them in the most likely to spill blood category.

Lanny R. North said...

Mr. Ratigan should read more deeply into his Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln. Executive action under our Constitution was limited and made dependent upon consensus granted by the Congress, notably the Senate. The Presidency is not a dictatorship, nor is it the head of a Government as is the Prime Minister of Britian. To rant about Leadership, falsly, as if the President needs only rise up and announce is not doing anyone any good. Lincoln was in deep trouble, and was served well by his Hillary Clinton, Seward. He was extremely popular as Lincoln was not and though him Lincoln was able to build his own popular support and by the end lead. Theodore Roosevelt was singularly adept at a leadership role, but he drew his ability to influence the direction of the country by his extreme popularity and his ability to manage the media. His Government was largely bought by Big Business. Lincoln's was under collapse. FDR, could have become the leader that this reporter rants about, but he chose to govern as the Constitutional Executive. This reporter should ask his sidekick for a short lecture on our Constitution and on History before he pretends to lecture any of us.
By the by, I think Alex should mock him when he becomes Dr. Goebels