The Speech That Obama Can’t Give
Yesterday’s State of the Union Address would have made a great inaugural address. Instead, President Obama, a man who arguably infused the nation with more hope and excitement than any President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, was left to ponder what the next President might be able to accomplish. This is the act of a man who knows that his Administration fell short, albeit because governance over a virtually schizophrenic American public and a political system that has come dangerously close to breaking down is all but impossible.
This is where I am coming from. History will record that as the President took office the nation was confronting its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. This was no run of the mill economic slow down. It was instead caused by banking excesses that cried out for structural reforms. How did the President respond to these challenges?
Today, the big banks are as big as ever. Fannie and Freddie are still in business. Recent reports indicate that the rating agencies are still up to their old tricks. And intelligent people argue with a straight face that if only Government didn’t get involved, none of this would have happened.
In contrast, the President could have put forward a proposal to once again separate investment and commercial banking. He could have had a Justice Department that aggressively sought to hold individuals responsible for their misdeeds as opposed to allowing them to hide behind their corporate veils. And, he could have sounded the alarm that the American political system was in danger of being hijacked by financial oligarchs.
In short, he could have had the record that Franklin Roosevelt had in October of 1936 as he ran for re-election. In the speech, which sounds better if you listen to it, Roosevelt delivers one of the best pieces of populist oratory in the history of the American Presidency. Remember that when he gave this speech he had passed legislation creating a firewall between investment and commercial banking, established the SEC, and, by the way, authorized the creation of federally chartered credit unions.
For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.
I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.
It truly is a missed opportunity for the Country that this President couldn’t give a similar address last night.