Which President Did Obama Sound Like?


I just received a press note from the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute encouraging me to watch and listen to the comparison above of Barack Obama’s rhetoric and that of Franklin Roosevelt. I did.
There are many lines that can be reached for and compared to the lofty rhetoric of many of America’s past leaders — but I thought Obama’s speech was conservative in tone, careful, overly cautious perhaps. He called on Americans to prepare for troubled times and to work together. But I felt when I heard it that Obama’s was a Hoover-style speech, not a Rooseveltian address.
Herbert Hoover promoted caution, thrift, sacrifice. . .Roosevelt set a vision and horizon for Americans to reach beyond their challenged circumstance.
Even Bill Kristol found the Obama address one that resonated with themes in Roosevelt’s rhetoric — both drawing on Thomas Paine.
I have high hopes for Obama — but the country is coming apart economically — and this is a time to work hard but also to reorganize and generate a new national vision.
I’m glad others see vision where I missed it in Obama’s national address.
— Steve Clemons


7 comments on “Which President Did Obama Sound Like?

  1. Dan Kervick says:

    Don Bacon and I had a good exchange about Obama’s speech that same day over at Democracy Arsenal, and I elaborated a bit on what I said here.
    Here are some of the further impressions I offered:
    “What was missing was the hopeful and optimistic counterpoint. There was too much wallowing in crisis and the “depths of winter”. A lot of talk of “gathering clouds” and “raging storms” and the “sapping of confidence” and “nagging fear” (malaise?). There was also plenty of fear mongering about the two wars and the economic slowdown, and even a wholly gratuitous, Bush-style conjuring of GWOT misery with the reference to the “far-reaching network of violence and hatred” – something that hasn’t really been a significant element of Obama’s message before. The hopeful notes in the speech were very restrained and vague. The message seemed to be only that if we buck up, dust ourselves off, step out on to the “long rugged path” that is “not for the faint-hearted”, and start working together in a dogged spirit of personal and civic responsibility, we can at least man the levies and prevent the worst, and then dig out.”
    “But where was the “hope” for anything other than national continuity and survival? Where was the vision of a brighter day, and a sketch of what that day will look like? We were told we are on a national “journey”. But where is that journey headed? Is it a journey to a cool and fun and possibly exciting place, or just a place where there is at least no catastrophic depression? The future was left shrouded in mystery. And as the speech sinks into today, I’m finding it to be a bit of a downer.”
    “I know the economy sucks. I come into work every day and read about layoffs in my industry, and sometimes in my own company. A couple of friends were just laid off on Monday. Frankly, I was hoping for a bit of a pep talk, not a hectoring Protestant sermon about the stony path through the veil of tears.”
    And also:
    “Don, I think if Obama is going to tell us all to work hard to remake America, he should say just a little bit more about what we are supposed to remake it into.”
    “Success in every venture is enhanced by visualization. I take it that Obama wants to work for a future filled with new green technologies, a healthier and more beautiful environment, a radically transformed energy system, better schools and health care, and a more peaceful and progressively governed world. He should have taken some time to paint a vibrant and inspiring picture of what that future looks like. Then the people he is exhorting to work hard to build it could say, “Cool, let’s go.””
    I might amend that now to say those people could say, “Cool, let’s roll”, echoing the famous 9/11 phrase. Why can’t we embark on a national project to restore and reconstruct our national economy, energy system, schools and environment with *at least* the same enthusiastic zeal with which Americans embarked on the national project to revenge-kill a bunch of Arabs in the Middle East?
    One possibility, of course, is that Obama is saving the uplift for the rollout of the specific plans, but consciously used the inauguration speech to damp down the optimistic hysteria and expectations a bit, on what was sure to be a day of widespread, feet-off-the-ground giddiness.


  2. Dan Kervick says:

    You’re welcome Steve. As always, it’s a privilege to be given the opportunity to express my ideas and exchange ideas with others here on your blog. Thank you for the work you do in providing this forum.
    Maybe even Maureen Dowd will learn something from reading it:)


  3. Steve Clemons says:

    Credit due to Dan Kervick. I had not seen his thinking but looked back and it really tracks with how I heard Obama’s speech, which can be twisted this way and that depending on the portal one wanted to hear it with. But the fact that one of those portals could be Hoover-ism is astounding.
    Thanks for the great thinking and interpretation Dan and for raising this Don Bacon.
    steve clemons


  4. Bob says:

    You folks are so smitten by power and prestige. Who gives a shit which president he sounded like! Is this some sort of game? Blowing the shit out of Pakistan, blowing the shit out of Afghanistan, Holbrooke promising a long haul in both. And you people are weighing your favorite presidents?
    Alas, it’s idiots like me who are to be most pitied for returning to this blog hoping to find something substantial.


  5. erichwwk says:

    While I too have high hopes for Obama, that he will adopt eventually more of FDR’s New Deal than he does of the University of Chicago Roosevelt elitist doctrine, the start has been dismal.
    The observation Uri Avnery made recently re Gaza:
    “The trouble with propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.”
    applies equally to the way Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” was morphed by Rose and Milton Friedman into an Ayn Rand propaganda piece, contradicting the essence of Adam Smith, and substituting an ideology or a religion of economics for an objective science of economics. For goodness sakes, Adam Smith wrote extensively on people getting together to fix prices and screw the public. And that the assertion that corporations were good, he called ridiculous and a pretense. For those who never read the “Wealth of Nations”, and rely on others’ interpretation, you are in for a real eye opener.
    My hope is more on Michelle, who like Eleanor (a major force in Myles Horton’s Highlander School, the one in my mind more responsible than FDR for the New Deal) has experienced economic injustice to an extent that Obama can only try to vicariously recreate with his black folk mingling.
    But to appoint Larry Summers as his chief economics advisor, and Timothy Geithner as Sect. of Treasury reveals the extent to which the inaugural Obama just DOESN’T GET IT.!!!
    As Joe Stiglitz, Jamie Galbraith, Bob Reich, and Paul Krugman point out with a degree of tact I am no longer comfortable with, the Treasury represents Wall Street, the financial elite; the extent to which this helps main street is purely coincidental. (The University of Chicago, btw, was founded by Rockefeller for this express purpose). The current focus is to help the banks retain what David Korten calls “Phantom wealth”, wealth created by debt created, leveraged money that inflates asset values, a technique similar to permanent tax cuts for the rich, but much more back door. High asset values creates bookkeeping wealth, which can be “captured” via dividend payments and high CEO salaries and moved to offshore accounts, beyond the reach of the American taxpayer. Since the real wealth remains the same, those holding a higher share of “Phantom wealth” receive an ever larger entitlement to the real goods and services, the intent of the tax cuts for the rich.
    There is plenty of good stuff being written by the half of the economists blackballed by the Obama administration on creating money by debt rather than government expenditures, on the Federal Reserve system, on derivatives, and all the technical financial instruments used to create what are ALL essentially Ponzi schemes at the core, originally an attempt to defraud the public which has gone on so long that those that created this nonsense appear to have bought into their own lies. As Einstein once wrote:
    “One cannot fix problems by the same reasoning that created them”.
    I see an enlightened population and a more forceful Michelle Obama as our best hope. We certainly cannot expect help from neither Congress nor Barrack himself, at least not at this stage.
    BTW, Democracy Now had two segments including David Korten today. I urge all to take a look.


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