‘New Nationalism’ Obama Speech Nods at Occupy Movement, Echoes Teddy Roosevelt

President Obama hasn’t come out swinging with a tent and a Guy Fawkes mask just yet, but it seems the President has given at least a small nod to the Occupy movement that is popping up in several cities across the US and world- and that plans to Occupy Congress next month.

Obama’s speech at Osawatomie High School took on the issue of income inequality- the item at the center of demands for Occupy protests- and refuted allegations that the demands from protesters were “class warfare,” as opponents of the movement have claimed. The location was not without precedent either, as The Atlantic points out- Teddy Roosevelt famously made a similar case in Osawatomie in 1910, arguing for social safety nets and human welfare above capitalistic ideals over 100 years ago. Obama seemed to be somewhat unambiguously on the side of those arguing against encouraging wealth disparity in the US, saying:

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. It is wrong for Warren Buffett’s secretary to pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. And he agrees with me. So do most Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. And I know that many of our wealthiest citizens would agree to contribute a little more if it meant reducing the deficit and strengthening the economy that made their success possible.

And while the Commander in Chief didn’t invoke the W-word in response to social programs, it’s almost inevitable that his words will be used by many on the right as a signal that any moves to protect the middle class are moves toward a “welfare state.” Obama said:

This isn’t about class warfare. This is about the nation’s welfare. It’s about making choices that benefit not just the people who’ve done fantastically well over the last few decades, but that benefits the middle class, and those fighting to get to the middle class, and the economy as a whole.

Obama even briefly addressed the growing murmurs about corruption and the lobbyist culture in Washington, saying:

This kind of inequality – a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression – hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy, from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity – that’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars they made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run…. Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them – that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.

Do you think the President needs to work harder to pull the middle class out of its long-term economic slump? Do you think Obama has some of the same goals as the Occupy movement?