Business, Finance & Economics

Obama's Osawatomie speech sets stage for battle against inequality (VIDEO)


Barack Obama at Osawatomie High School, December 6, 2011.


Mandel Ngan

President Barack Obama attacked Republican economics of "inequality," in what is being hailed as a major speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, Tuesday.

Introducing what commentators expect to be his campaign message, Obama made sweeping criticisms of his rivals' laissez-faire approach to the economy:

"Their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.

"I am here to say they are wrong."

Obama called it a "make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class."

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To lengthy applause, Obama slammed the theory of "trickle-down economics"—the idea that prosperity for the top few will generate jobs for the masses below them:

"Now, it's a simple theory. And we have to admit, it's one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That's in America's DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker.

"But here's the problem: It doesn't work."

Invoking Theodore Roosevelt, who gave a keynote speech in Osawatomie in 1910, Obama hailed his vision of "an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him," which he translated to mean better education, greater corporate accountability and "fair" taxes.

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Obama "moved beyond the specifics of his recent jobs proposals to issue a searing indictment of Republican economic theory, framing the debate as one of right and wrong, fairness and unfairness," said the Washington Post.

Yet others criticised the lack of specifics in Obama's speech.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell accused the president of "cheap political theater," reported the Guardian, while Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski told ABC Obama had so far failed to live up to his promises:

"The face remains the president is depserately trying new slogans and messages to see what sticks because he can't figure out how to sell his last three years of high unemployment and more debt."

The speech will also be remembered for an apparent slip-up by the president, who was heard to say "It's great to be back in the state of Texas," before correcting himself and describing his family's connections with the state of Kansas.

Watch the full speech here courtesy of Kansas Watchdog TV (part 1 of 2):

Find the full text of the speech on the Guardian's website. The Atlantic provides a reader's guide to the main points.

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