The White House is trumpeting President Obama's speech on economic fairness today in Osawatomie, Kansas as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt. Administration officials point out that Roosevelt used a 1910 speech in the same obscure middle American town to call for a "new nationalism" that would fight for everyday Americans against corporate greed and concentrations of power.
The trouble is that Roosevelt, promoting those ideas, went on to lose his bid to return to the White House in 1912.
White House officials say Obama picked Osawatomie as the venue for his speech specifically because Roosevelt gave his address there to mark what TR hoped would be a new progressive era. It didn't turn out that way.
TR's ideas--based on the concept that the presidency should be the central advocate for the people and an aggressive advocate of economic fairness--turned out to be too controversial at the time.
Roosevelt had succeeded to the presidency as vice president when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Roosevelt was overwhelmingly elected as a Republican in 1904 but decided not to seek another term in 1908.
Roosevelt ran again as the nominee of the Bullmoose party in 1912. He lost amid charges that he was a demagogue who favored a vast over-reach in federal power.
All in all, it wasn't the kind of political response to the Osawatomie speech that Obama and his aides are hoping for today.
Yet White House officials are previewing the address by focusing on what they call the parallels between America then and now. "We're in this moment coming out of severe crisis, where inequality's been rising, the middle class is getting squeezed, there's a sense the rules don't apply," says a senior administration official. "...People at the top aren't paying their fair share." The official added: "The president is going to [convey] very clearly his sense of what's required..where everyone gets a fair shot and a fair shake. That's going to animate not just the political debate next year, but the debate going forward."
The official also said, "There's a tremendous amount of parallel between that moment in time in the economy and how middle-working-class families felt, and where we're at right now."