Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation. Let me add that the health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part….
President Obama is no Teddy Roosevelt, even though he’d like people to think he is. Needless to say, the GOP front-runner is no Roosevelt either (see Romney: I Don’t Know ‘What The Purpose is’ of Public Lands — a line that would set the Lion spinning.)
Roosevelt was a true progressive. In his famous, “New Nationalism” speech of 1910, he uttered the remarks that open this post along with these timeless statements:
I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the games, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service….
Now, this means that our government, national and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests….
There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done….
The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive.
Obama has turned out to be “the most moderate Democratic president since World War II.” Nonetheless, back in December, Obama delivered a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, because it was where Roosevelt gave his 1910 speech. Obama gave a good speech, as far as it went, focused on “the best way to restore growth and prosperity, restore balance, restore fairness”:
This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what’s at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement. Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years.
And 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. I’m here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we’re greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. These aren’t Democratic values or Republican values. These aren’t 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values.
We simply cannot return to this brand of “you’re on your own” economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and in its future. We know it doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citizens.
The rhetoric is good, with simple words and repetition, though it still lacks a soaring metaphor — no, “stacked the deck” is too hackneyed to count.
But obviously restoring this too-narrow version of prosperity is most decidedly not the defining issue of our time. Indeed, Obama himself knows that. Hard to believe but it was only 3 years ago, April 2009, where Obama said these words at a wind tower production facility in Iowa:
Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors, or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity: The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.
… the bulk of our efforts must focus on unleashing a new, clean-energy economy that will begin to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, will cut our carbon pollution by about 80 percent by 2050, and create millions of new jobs right here in America….
What’s truly sad is not merely that Obama failed to achieve this or failed to give even one single national primetime address on the defining issue of our time. What’s really sad is that he went to Osawatomie to channel Teddy Roosevelt and draw direct comparisons to him, but wouldn’t even go as far as Roosevelt did a century ago in speaking out on the need for conservation and environmental protection to be an integral part of prosperity and a progressive agenda.
In Osawatomie, Roosevelt said:
Moreover, I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few, and here again is another case in which I am accused of taking a revolutionary attitude. People forget now that one hundred years ago there were public men of good character who advocated the nation selling its public lands in great quantities, so that the nation could get the most money out of it, and giving it to the men who could cultivate it for their own uses. We took the proper democratic ground that the land should be granted in small sections to the men who were actually to till it and live on it.
Now, with the water-power with the forests, with the mines, we are brought face to face with the fact that there are many people who will go with us in conserving the resources only if they are to be allowed to exploit them for their benefit. That is one of the fundamental reasons why the special interest should be driven out of politics.
Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation. Let me add that the health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part.
Can you even imagine Obama uttering words like that? Heck, in the State of the Union, he said, “This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy,” including oil and gas.
Even Roosevelt understood that the defining issue of our time is always the same — “leaving this land even a better land for our descendents than it is for us.” We aren’t doing that now, not even close:
- IEA: World on Pace for 11°F Warming, “Even School Children Know This Will Have Catastrophic Implications for All of Us”
- An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces
- The “greatest good for the greatest number” applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.
- If in a given community unchecked popular rule means unlimited waste and destruction of the natural resources—soil, fertility, waterpower, forests, game, wild-life generally—which by right belong as much to subsequent generations as to the present generation, then it is sure proof that the present generation is not yet really fit for self-control, that it is not yet really fit to exercise the high and responsible privilege of a rule which shall be both by the people and for the people. The term “for the people” must always include the people unborn as well as the people now alive, or the democratic ideal is not realized.
- The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.
- The United States at this moment occupies a lamentable position as being perhaps the chief offender among civilized nations in permitting the destruction and pollution of nature. Our whole modern civilization is at fault in the matter. But we in America are probably most at fault … We treasure pictures and sculpture. We regard Attic temples and Roman triumphal arches and Gothic cathedrals as of priceless value. But we are, as a whole, still in that low state of civilization where we do not understand that it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals’not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.
- To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them.
Hear! Hear! Or, rather, Speak! Speak!