What was Fox News to do when Barack Obama went to Kansas and delivered a speech that echoed the “New Nationalism” address Teddy Roosevelt used to renew and redefine his political prospects? Obama’s oratory was not quite as radical as that of the former Republican president, but it was close enough is spirit and content to create concerns on the part of Fox commentators that the current president might be tapping into the rich vein of American progressive populism that actually moves the masses.
So the network of economic royalism did the only thing it could.
Fox broke away from Tuesday’s speech right at the point where Obama was most closely following TR’s line, with references to how the former president had declared: “Our country…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.” And the recognition by Obama that “today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what [Roosevelt] fought for in his last campaign: an eight-hour work day and a minimum wage for women, insurance for the unemployed and for the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.”
Obama had the quote right. And he had the history right.
What was Fox to do?
No problem. They dismissed Teddy Roosevelt as a socialist.
Once the details of Obama’s speech—one of the most effective and well-received of his presidency—were made available, Fox News political editor Chris Stirewelt explained: “What Teddy Roosevelt was calling for was a sort of a socialistic nationalism, in which the government would take things away from people who got things that he didn’t think they should have [and] give it to the working man. They talk about ‘the square deal,’ ‘fairness,’ all of these new mandates for government—something the Republican Party has walked away from in very decided fashion certainly since the Reagan era in terms of what the role and purpose of government is. This is Obama embracing a Republican icon of a bygone era.”
Fox host Megyn Kelly picked up on the theme: “Teddy Roosevelt was calling for something akin to a socialist nationalism. Why would President Obama want to do anything that would associate himself with that word ‘socialist’ which has been used against him by so many of the Republican presidential candidates, among others.”
Yes, Stirewelt responded, “I think the biggest thing [Obama] is trying to do is shame the Republicans. He’s trying to say: ‘Look, one of your own, a great hero of yours that’s on Mount Rushmore, he was a socialist. He called for this sort of socialist nationalism. Why are you people not being like him? Why are you not following in his footsteps?’ ”