Obama channels Roosevelt, seeks "fair shot" for Americans struggling in tough economy

Raw Deal: How Wall Street and Washington broke faith with working families

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President Obama says all Americans deserve a "fair shot" at opportunity.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Seeking to channel the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, President Obama skewered his ideological foes Tuesday for abetting and condoning a new Gilded Age of greed, economic inequality and vanishing opportunity for the working families of America.

“This is the defining issue of our time,” Obama told a crowd in Osawatomie, Kan., where Roosevelt laid out the progressive agenda in his “New Nationalism” speech of 1910. “This is a make or break moment for the middle class….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 and secure their retirement.”

Obama deplored how forces like globalization and computerization have combined with political gridlock to leave workers with lost jobs and less pay, while the top 1 percent has disproportionately prospered.

“The rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart,” Obama said. In the years after World War II, a child born into poverty had a better-than-even chance of climbing into the middle class. Today those odds have shriveled to one-in-three. “For most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded.”

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski told the Associated Press that the president was “desperately trying new slogans and messages to see what sticks because he can’t figure out how to sell his last three years of high unemployment and more debt.”

Indeed, the president placed the blame for the stagnant economy on avarice, Republican obstructionism and laissez-faire policies—not on any failures of his own economic policies during three years in office.

The “big banks” and “billionaires” and a “certain crowd in Washington” exploit leaky campaign finance laws, take advantage of tax loopholes and buy the services of lobbyists who work against the interests of average citizens, Obama said. He urged Americans to rebuild the economy “based on fair play, a fair shot, and a fair share.”

Fair play, fair shot, fair share: these are Obama’s terms for what Roosevelt called the Square Deal. The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News is investigating the Raw Deal that working class families have gotten at the hands of policymakers in Washington and big banks on Wall Street.

A few of CPI’s Raw Deal stories to date describe: