Today, President Obama sought to channel President Roosevelt at a major speech in Kansas. As it turns out, he’s channeled another Republican by using the exact same “fair shot” theme that Majority Leader Cantor has been discussing for the past year.
Below is a comparison of President Obama’s remarks (as prepared for delivery) and Leader Cantor’s. While their words are similar, their message is very different. Republicans want everyone to have a fair shot at earning their success, but the President is calling for tax increases, government controlled equality of outcomes and sweeping changes that will put Washington in charge of determining opportunity.
President Obama: “My grandparents served during World War II -- he as a soldier in Patton’s Army, she as a worker on a bomber assembly line. Together, they shared the optimism of a nation that triumphed over a Depression and fascism. They believed in an America where hard work paid off, responsibility was rewarded, and anyone could make it if they tried -- no matter who you were, where you came from, or how you started out.”
Leader Cantor: “My grandmother and her family fled religious persecution to come here at the turn of the last century. Like so many of her generation in Eastern Europe, my grandmother faced a future where no matter how hard she worked, no matter how much she studied or learned, no matter how smart she was, there were limits. Just because of who she was, who her parents were, and where she was born, there was only so far she could go, only so much she could do. But our country isn’t like that. America offered opportunity. My grandmother eventually made her home in a working class section of my hometown of Richmond. … In deciding as a country who we're going to be, we need to be sure that the opportunity my grandmother realized is here for all of us. It really is about that fair shot - no matter who you are or where you're from, all of us should have access to the opportunity to earn the success that we’re after.”
President Obama: “These values gave rise to the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known. It was here, in America, that the most productive workers and innovative companies turned out the best products on Earth, and every American shared in that pride and success -- from those in executive suites to middle management to those on the factory floor. If you gave it your all, you’d take enough home to raise your family, send your kids to school, have your health care covered, and put a little away for retirement.”
Leader Cantor: “In America, you may be talking to the union worker in Philadelphia, the retired state employee in Sacramento or the working Mom in a small town in Kansas. All of them come from different places and different backgrounds. But each of them rely upon a simple and implicit guarantee – that the deck won’t be stacked against them in America. That they’ll have a fair shot and the opportunity to succeed. And we must work hard to make sure the American fair shot is here for us in this room, and for our children.”
President Obama: I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. Those aren’t Democratic or Republican values; 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values, and we have to reclaim them.
Leader Cantor: “Why shouldn’t we create simple, clear, and fair rules that apply equally to all Americans, and then let you – the people – decide for yourselves who you will become, how much you can earn, and what you will do with your life? It is time for us to regain the aspiration spirit of our people and double down on the American Dream. We should all aspire to success. We should all dream to achieve. Why? Because when people are successful they are best positioned to use their talents to help grow our economy and give everyone a hand up the ladder and the dignity of a job.”
President Obama: “Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them – that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.”
Leader Cantor: “What has happened in this town over the last several decades, and both sides have been responsible for this so there’s plenty of blame for that, is they have succumbed to special interest pressure. There are industries, sectors of this economy, and individual companies that have benefitted from the pressure they place on this place. It’s the ultimate in crony capitalism if you can gain an advantage in the system, you will do it to benefit your shareholders. Right now, we have to be for everybody. We have to be for the bulk of the American people who feel, right now, that they have been left out and don't have a fair shot in this game. That's what we're trying to do when we say broaden the tax base, simplify the code and bring down rates.”
President Obama: “And yet, over the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50-50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class.”
Leader Cantor: “A recent survey of over 500 successful entrepreneurs found that 93% came from middle or lower-class backgrounds. Most of them were the first in their families to launch a business. And those at the very top? Of the very first members of the Forbes 400 list published 29 years ago, less than 10% remain. People are moving up and down the ladder. They’re just not moving up fast enough. That is precisely why we must ensure fairness at every level of the economic ladder.”
President Obama: “But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It’s wrong. It flies in the face of everything we stand for.”
Leader Cantor: “The fact is, many in America are coping with broken families, dealing with hunger and homelessness, confronted daily by violent crime, or burdened by rampant drug use. Recently I was asked, “What does your party say to that 9-year-old, inner city kid scared to death, growing up in a life of poverty? What can you do for that little girl?” Well, we know there are no easy answers. But I believe that child needs a hand up to help her climb the ladder of success in our country. She also needs some guarantees in life. She needs to know that the rules are the same for everybody. That although she may have to work harder than many of us, she needs to know that she has a fair shot at making it in this country. She also needs the advantages of a solid family around her and a community that encourages her to learn and work hard. She needs some semblance of stability.”
President Obama: “It starts by making sure that everyone in America gets a fair shot at success.”
Leader Cantor: “It really is about that fair shot - no matter who you are or where you're from, all of us should have access to the opportunity to earn the success that we’re after.”
President Obama: “Yes, businesses, not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there.”
Leader Cantor: “Washington doesn't create jobs. We believe in private enterprise, we believe the way you get the economy growing again is to focus on the businesses every one of which started with the entrepreneur making a decision to invest their time and money to create jobs. We need that kind of activity. That is the priority right now. We saw what happened with the stimulus money, much of that went to the states and you know what happened, it sustained jobs for about a year and then the states were faced with billions of dollars in debt once that year was over with.”
President Obama: Investing in things like education that give everybody a chance to succeed. … It will require parents to get more involved in their children’s education, students to study harder, and some workers to start studying all over again.
Leader Cantor: “I remember that once he told me that if you really want to ‘ruffle some feathers,’ you tell a parent that a school they are relying on is failing their child. I thought about that. And you know what? Ruffling a few feathers leads to what the Governor understands is the key to education reform – parental involvement. Because parents taking more ownership of their children’s education provides stability to the child, to the family, to the community. … Every child in America deserves an excellent education. It doesn’t matter where this failing school is; the city or the suburbs, a wealthy or poor town. Better schools benefit everyone. This little girl deserves a hand in attending a better school, a chance at greater stability, and the opportunity for success and happiness. As a nation, we must make education a priority because if our schools fail, we fail.”
President Obama: “Our success has never just been about survival of the fittest. It’s been about building a nation where we’re all better off. We pull together, we pitch in, and we do our part, believing that hard work will pay off; that responsibility will be rewarded; and that our children will inherit a nation where those values live on.”
Leader Cantor: “So, instead of talking about a fair share or spending time trying to push those at the top down, elected leaders in Washington should be trying to ensure that everyone has a fair shot and the opportunity to earn success up the ladder. The goal shouldn’t be for everyone to meet in the middle of the ladder. We should want all people to be moving up and no one to be pulled down. How do we do that? It cannot simply be about wealth redistribution. You don’t just take from the guy at the top to give to the guy at the bottom and expect our problems to be solved. But it does have to be about fairness. Over the last few years, America has seen too many favors for the politically connected, too many handouts for the most irresponsible and too large of a bill for everyone else. This is a step backwards. It does injury to the American Dream, and it violates the American promise.”
President Obama: "I believe America is on its way up."
Leader Cantor: "We should all be committed to America rising."