In Teddy Roosevelt's era, President Barack Obama explained to the nation this week, "some people thought massive inequality and exploitation was just the price of progress. ... But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can."
And he's right. Even today there are people who believe they should have free license to take whatever they want from whomever they can. They're called Democrats.
Yet the president, uniter of a fractured nation, the mighty slayer of infinite straw men, claims that some Americans "rightly" suppose that the economy is rigged against their best interests in a nation awash in breathtaking greed, massive inequality and exploitation. Or I should say, he's trying to convince us that it's the case.
The middle-class struggle to find a decent life is the "defining issue of our time," the president went on. And nothing says middle-class triumph like more regulation, unionism, cronyism and endless spending. Hey, Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican!) built the interstate highway system, for goodness' sake. Ergo, we must support a bailout package for public-sector unions -- you know, for the middle class.
In what other ways will Obama secure the dream in this "defining" moment? Is the middle class going to be salvaged by raising the top marginal tax rates a few points on 1-percenters and adding $1 trillion to the federal budget in 10 years (equal to one year of federal deficit spending)? Or is the middle class going to rise again on the strength of a temporary tax holiday from programs it actually uses?
Surely, that won't do. If not, what are you talking about exactly, Mr. President? Give us the big plan. What program have you devised that offers middle-class Americans more opportunity, not just more dependency? How have you expanded the fortunes of the bitter, occasionally clingy bourgeois in the past three years -- by adding $4 trillion to their offspring's tab?
Smart people can grouse all they want about the supposed zealotry of the tea party or the conservative presidential field (and sometimes, they might be right), but Obama's mimicking Teddy Roosevelt's end-of-career hard left turn tells us a lot about the president's worldview. In his speech in Osawatomie, Kan., Obama dropped almost all pretenses and made the progressive case against an American free market system, which he called "a simple theory ... one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. ... And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here's the problem: It doesn't work."
That's not to say capital isn't useful occasionally, of course. Not long ago, Obama hosted a $38,000-a-plate fundraiser for wealthy Manhattanites. The president -- with the Democratic National Committee -- has hauled in more cash from rent-seeking financial-sector companies than all Republican candidates combined. This president has supported every big-business bailout with taxpayers' money, even though he claims they shouldn't be on the "hook for Wall Street's mistakes."
But it is refreshing to hear Obama come out and give us a clear picture of this country in all its ugly class-conscious, unjust, menacing glory rather than veil his arguments with any of that soothing rhetoric that got him elected last time. It's time, my friends, for a new square deal.