Column, 689 words

Obama Tips His Hat to FDR

He has nothing to fear.

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Whatever happens over the next two years, you can bet that 22nd century school children will know more about President Barack Obama than kids learn today about, say, Calvin Coolidge. He made history just by being the first non-white man to occupy the White House.

What else will tomorrow’s kids learn about Obama?

Sure, the Affordable Care Act has delivered health coverage to millions of Americans who needed it, shrinking the uninsured rate to less than 13 percent. Yet that law didn’t heal enough of what ails the nation’s health care system. Compared with Social Security, one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s greatest achievements, it’s no big deal.

SOTU Time Magazine Cover

Time Magazine Cover, November 24, 2008

The ACA’s shortcomings are symptomatic of the first six years of Obama’s presidency. He doled out one concession after another to ungrateful Republican lawmakers.

Then the drubbing Democrats took in November’s midterm elections knocked some sense into him. Or he realized that he had nothing to lose. Or maybe he traveled in a time machine.

For now, Obama is channeling his inner FDR. What would FDR say about today’s growing inequality and stagnant wages? Something like this:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much,” Roosevelt declared during his second inaugural address. “It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Sound familiar? Obama echoed that sentiment in his State of the Union address when he asked:

“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well, or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

As FDR declared in 1937: “Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people.”

Obama’s says this more conversationally: “This country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

With his bundle of proposed tax tweaks slated to raise an estimated $320 billion in revenue and bring relief to millions of exhausted American families, Obama’s “middle class economics” is forcing GOP lawmakers into an awkward corner.

Take Mitt Romney. He derided the public’s growing concern about inequality as “envy” and “class warfare” during his losing 2012 presidential campaign.

Now that he’s mulling another White House bid, Romney sounds different.

“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse, and there are more people in poverty in American than ever before,” the once and future candidate declared at a recent Republican gathering in San Diego.

It will take more than mouthing the word “inequality” to rebrand Mr. 47 percent.

Meanwhile, ponder FDR’s words: “In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.”

And another thing Obama just said:

“Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another  —  or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward?”

As a progressive, I’m still disappointed. I can’t stomach Obama’s addiction to drones, domestic snooping, and crummy trade deals. I wish he’d spoken more directly about enacting stronger gun laws and locking up fewer Americans  —  and uttered the word “racism.”

As an environmentalist, I appreciate his tough climate talk. But I wish he’d fall out of love with fracking and start opposing the construction of new nuclear reactors.

Yet most modern progressives revere Roosevelt despite the creation of nuclear bombs and the internment of Japanese Americans on his watch.

And instead of being remembered for being the first president in a wheelchair, FDR is that guy who left the Depression in the dust.

That’s why it’s good to see that after years of riling his base instead of rallying it, Obama is rising above Washington’s gridlock.

He has nothing to fear except…well, you know.

Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies.