Eliot Spitzer: How to Turn the President's Nice Words into Action
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On Tuesday, in Osawatomie, Kan., President Obama gave a glorious and powerful speech that was a testament to the enduring appeal of one of our greatest political figures: Theodore Roosevelt. The president harnessed the economic principles of the Progressive Era and applied them to the economic realities of today. He made an argument for a dynamic government that invests based upon principles of equity and opportunity for all; a government that fosters a genuine robust capitalism based on principles of true competition and market integrity. The difference between the president’s vision of government and that of his potential Republican presidential opponents is vast. The difference between the president’s speech and his own governance over the past three years is, unfortunately, only marginally smaller.
The president has tried to wear the mantle of several presidents recently: Truman, for his attacks on a do-nothing congress; Eisenhower for his careful centrism; Clinton, for his willingness to invoke executive authority when the legislative branch failed. Yet it is Theodore Roosevelt whom President Obama should stick with, Theodore Roosevelt whose passion and principles of true reform have the most relevance today.
Obama’s speech was a welcome tonic, an indication of a new direction that might be taken. So who deserves credit for nudging the president to change his focus and tone? Occupy Wall Street. The president’s speech—which might be viewed as the opening salvo of the presidential race—was defined by OWS. Growth, fairness, and opportunity have replaced deficit reduction as the central theme of American politics. I even wonder whether Judge Rakoff would have issued his wonderful opinion rejecting as inadequate the SEC-Citibank settlement without the foundation laid by OWS. Judge Rakoff’s opinion is the judicial analogue to OWS: a visceral statement of discontent; a judicial “I have had enough of this”—albeit in more modulated prose.