“Failure Is Not An American Habit”

I’m going to quote at length a passage from President Obama’s speech in Green Bay this morning because it represents his closing pitch to Americans, and, unfortunately, most Americans won’t hear much, if any, of it, only what fits into a short segment on the nightly news or a snippet on radio or cable TV:

Back in 2008, when we talked about change, I told you, I wasn’t just talking about changing presidents, I wasn’t just talking about changing parties, I was talking about changing our politics. I ran because the voices of the American people, your voice, had been shut out of our democracy for way too long, by lobbyists and special interests, politicians who believe that compromise is somehow a dirty word.

By folks who would say anything to win office and do anything to stay there. 

The protectors of the status quo are a powerful force in Washington. And over the last four years, every time we’ve tried to make changes, they fought back with everything they’ve got. They’ve spent millions to stop us from reforming health care and Wall Street and student loans.

And their strategy from the start was to engineer pure gridlock in Congress, refusing to compromise on ideas that both Democrats and Republicans have supported in the past. And what they’re counting on now, Wisconsin, is that the American people will be so worn down by all the squabbling, so tired of all the dysfunction, that you’ll actually reward obstruction and put people back in charge who advocate the very policies that got us into this mess.

In other words, their bet is on cynicism.

But, Wisconsin, my bet is on you. My bet is on the decency and good sense of the American people. Because despite all the resistance, despite all the setbacks, we’ve won some great fights. And I’ve never lost sight of the vision we share. That you would have a voice, that there would be somebody at the table fighting every single day for middle-class Americans who work hard. 

You know, sometimes Republicans in Congress have worked with me to meet our goals, to cut taxes for small businesses and families like yours, to open new markets for American goods, or finally repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

And sometimes we’ve had big fights, fights that were worth having. 

Like when we forced the banks to stop overcharging for student loans and make college more affordable for millions. 

Like when we forced Wall Street to abide by the toughest rules since the 1930s. 

Like when we stopped insurance companies from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing conditions like cancer or diabetes, so that nobody in America goes bankrupt just because they get sick. 

I didn’t fight those fights for any partisan advantage. I’ve shown my willingness to work with anybody of any party to move this country forward. And if you want to break the gridlock in Congress, you’ll vote for leaders, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, who feel the same way. 

But if the price of peace in Washington is cutting deals that will kick students off financial aid, or get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood, or eliminate health care for millions on Medicaid who are poor or elderly or disabled, just to give a millionaire a tax cut, I’m not having it. 

That’s not a deal worth having. That’s not bipartisanship, that’s not change. That’s surrender to the same status quo that has hurt middle-class families for way too long. But I’m not ready to give up on that fight. I hope you aren’t either, Wisconsin. I hope you aren’t either.

See, the folks at the very top in this country don’t need another champion in Washington. They’ll always have a seat at the table. They’ll always have access and influence. The people who need a champion are the Americans whose letters I read late at night, the men and women I meet on the campaign trail every day.

The laid off furniture worker who’s retraining at the age of 55 for a career in biotechnology, she needs a champion. 

The small restaurant owner who needs a loan to expand after the bank turned him down, he needs a champion.

The cooks, the waiters, the cleaning staff, working overtime at a Vegas hotel, trying to save enough to buy a first home or send their kid to college, they need a champion.

The auto worker who is back on the job, filled with pride and dignity because he’s building a great car, he needs a champion.

The young teacher, doing her best in an over-crowded classroom, with outdated textbooks, she needs a champion. 

All those kids in inner cities and small farm towns, in the valleys of Ohio, or rolling Virginia hills, or right here in Green Bay, kids dreaming of becoming scientists or doctors, engineers or entrepreneurs, diplomats, or even a president, they need a champion in Washington. They need a champion.

They need a champion because the future will never have as many lobbyists as the past, but it’s the dreams of those children that will be our saving grace. That’s why I need you, Wisconsin. To make sure their voices are heard, to make sure your voices are heard.

We’ve come too far to turn back now. We’ve come too far to let our hearts grow faint. Now’s the time to keep pushing forward. To educate all our kids, and train all our workers, to create new jobs and rebuild our infrastructure, to discover new sources of energy, to broaden opportunity to grow our middle class, to restore our democracy, and to make sure no matter who you are or where you came from or how you started out, you can work to achieve your American Dream.

You know, in the midst of the Great Depression, FDR reminded the country that “failure is not an American habit. And in the strength of great hope we must shoulder our common load.” That’s the strength we need today. That’s the hope I’m asking you to share. That’s the future in our sights. That’s why I’m asking for your vote.

I urge all of you to go here and read the complete text of the speech, given 80 years ago, from which the FDR quote above was taken. It is remarkable.

Roosevelt does a short survey of American economic history, including the Industrial Revolution, including a devastating critique of corporations, how they “threaten the economic freedom of individuals to earn a living,” how “we are steering a steady course towards economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.”

He said the day of the “financial titan” was over, and the “day of enlightened administration has come,” an administration with the task of,

distributing wealth and products more equitably, of adapting existing economic organizations to the service of the people. 

Remarkable. Imagine if Barack Obama said that!

Or this:

As I see it, the task of government in its relation to business is to assist the development of an economic declaration of rights, an economic constitutional order. This is the common task of statesman and business man. It is the minimum requirement of more permanently safe order of things….

The Declaration of Independence discusses the problem in terms of a contract. Government is a relation of give and take, a contract . . . Under such a contract, rulers were accorded power, and the people consented to that power on consideration that they be accorded certain rights. The task of statesmanship has always been the redefinition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order. New conditions impose new requirements upon government and those who conduct government . . .

Every man has a right to life, and this means that he also has a right to make a comfortable living. He may by sloth or crime decline to exercise that right, but it may not be denied to him. We have no actual famine or dearth; our industrial and agricultural mechanism can produce enough to spare. Our government formal and informal, political and economic, owes to every one an avenue to possess himself a portion of that plenty sufficient for his needs through his own work….

If, in accord with this principle, we must restrict the operations of the speculator, the manipulator, even the financier, I believe we must accept the restriction as needful not to hamper individualism but to protect it….

If Obama said those words, then Fox “News” commentators would undergo such ideological convulsions that all the drugs in Rush Limbaugh’s medicine chest wouldn’t be enough to calm them down.

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4 Comments

  1. writer89

     /  November 1, 2012

    I just linked from my FB page to the FDR speech in its entirety. I personally know too many people these days who have blindly accepted the “big government/small government,” “makes/takers” bullshit and have no idea how we got where we are now. Maybe it’s too complicated for them to understand. I hope not! But Obama needs to walk the walk as well as to talk the talk. FDR wasn’t always on board with everything he said, either. The Roosevelt Recession is a good example of that!

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    • You are right about the Roosevelt Recession. He temporarily got cold feet and listened to the cries for budget austerity, the same calls we hear now and the same ones Obama resisted in 2009, as the economy was on the brink of complete collapse into a depression.

      The problem for Obama was two-fold:

      1) No one knew in early 2009 just how bad the economy had shrunk at the end of 2008. It was much worse (-8.9% GDP growth) than Obama’s advisers realized, thus the stimulus package turned out to be too small.

      2) Obama inherited not only a trillion dollar plus budget deficit, but a very large national debt, swollen by policies enacted under Bush, Jr. Thus, the national debt kept pressure, is still keeping pressure, on Obama not to do what needed and needs to be done.

      As for Obama walking the walk, I agree. But that walk won’t be a pleasant one, as House Republicans will dog his every step. I suspect that a lot of liberals won’t like the results, if Obama gets elected, of dealing with these folks in order to solve the problems that await us.

      Duane

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  2. FDR would, I think, be pleased at how far the country has come in 80 years, but he would also be disappointed to learn that Hoover-thinking still thrives. And that thinking has become worse. In Hoover’s day, conservatives believed in small government. Today, they believe in huge government and massive bureaucracy, but one that values and supports industries ahead of infrastructure, healthcare and social institutions.

    Here in Joplin businesses and jobs are thriving in the midst of a wobbly national economy, and the reason for that is not because we Joplinites are different from other Americans, as much as we might like to think that. No, we are thriving because of massive and benign government aid that helped and is still helping us recover from an historic devastating tornado.

    The newspaper today reports that our small airport has been so busy that its government subsidy is to be reduced and might not even be needed in the future. Houses and businesses are sprouting from the FEMA-cleared land, fresh and modern. The city fathers are trying unsuccessfully to hide their glee at downtown development and plans for a museum/arts center. It’s all enabled by benevolent government, against the concept of which the majority of its citizens will vote tomorrow.

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    • Wow, Jim. Nice going. Excellent post.

      I saw that piece in the paper about the airport. It is clear that local Republicans have a nuanced definition of “big government.” Especially post-tornado Republicans.

      And haven’t you enjoyed hearing how “resilient” New Yorkers and New Jerseyites are? Man, I thought we had a monopoly on the human spirit here in Joplin!

      Duane

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