Well, that didn't last. President Obama went out to Osawatomie, Kansas, to deliver what the White House told us in hushed tones was a major address. He proclaimed it "the defining issue of our time." It's more than that, it's the "make or break moment for the middle class and for all those struggling to make it into the middle class."
He invoked Theodore Roosevelt's 1910 speech at Osawatomie. He appealed to that example as his inspiration. And then he went on CBS's 60 Minutes and compared himself to Lincoln, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson. What happened to TR? What happened to the great Trustbuster? No mention.
Most critics are jumping on Obama, hooting at his claim to be the fourth most consequential president in our history (and for reminding us that he's only just getting started.) Mr. Obama cited -- in a general way -- his legislative accomplishments as his basis for climbing onto his own Mount Gushmore.
President Obama traces his health care legislation to TR. He claims that the first Roosevelt was an earlier harbinger of this great cause for the middle class. Nothing so threatens the middle class in America as Obamacare. If this is not repealed, middle income Americans will find themselves shackled to a government-provided health service that gets worse and worse and costs more and more. Britain is going through a painful re-examination of the dangers of cradle-to-grave "coverage."
Worse, Obamacare forces middle income Americans to subsidize the killing of millions of unborn children. These children are the best hope of getting us out of this debt spiral.
They are a priceless source of human capital. Growth depends almost wholly on the number of workers plus human capital. And education depends greatly on the impact of early education in the family. When combined with education and purpose, a healthy and growing population is only way for a nation to achieve economic security.
Obamacare inverts all of this. Nor will Mr. Obama compromise on federal programs that fund the killers of the unborn. Those programs are off the table. That's "non-negotiable, John," he tells House Speaker John Boehner. And yet, he claims Boehner is not willing to work with him.
Mr. Obama is not entirely wrong when he cites TR as an inspiration for national health care. TR's Osawatomie speech led him on a straight path to his "Bull Moose" third party run for president. In that 1912 campaign, TR's Progressive Party platform did indeed call for nationalized health care.
Now, Theodore might have meant this provision when he said his own party was filled with do gooders, government reformers, "and, of course, the lunatic fringe." Amazing that the canny TR invented that phrase 101 years before the Occupy Wall Street crowd appeared on the scene.
Roosevelt's 1912 campaign was, to his admirers, a most painful episode. He had allowed himself to be prodded and goaded into a campaign that could only result in the worst of outcomes -- the election of Woodrow Wilson. Now, TR was not the most radical candidate in 1912. There was a fourth party candidate, Eugene V. Debs, who campaigned on a train called "The Red Special." Debs was for nationalizing all industry, all private property.
Hmmm. Might that have included banks, insurance companies, auto makers, and college loans, perhaps? The Socialist Debs advocated a program more like that of the Obama administration today than even TR's most far-reaching proposals.
There is a herky-jerky quality to this presidency. Dash to Osawatomie, wrap yourself in TR's mantle, then forget about him, discard his legacy, and put yourself in his place on a Mount Gushmore of your own devising. Take a Big Stick to Congress. Then go to Hawaii on vacation.
Let's all grant that the White House does not attract many shrinking violets. Most of its occupants have had healthy self-esteem, to put it mildly. But what we have now may be the most egotistic presidency we have seen. Bragging about "legislative achievements" but not daring to say what those achievements were -- Obamacare, the failed stimulus, bailouts for Big Donors like Solyndra -- and then claiming that you are doing it all for the embattled middle class is the act of an amazing ego. 2012 should be an interesting year. Maybe even the Red Special will come steaming down the tracks.
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and a visiting professor at the Liberty University School of Law.