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In Kansas, a combative Obama tries on his Teddy Roosevelt hat

In the Kansas town where Teddy Roosevelt called for a progressive 'New Nationalism,' Obama delivered a populist appeal fairness through taxes and regulation and an indictment of the GOP agenda as he sees it.

By Staff writer / December 6, 2011

President Obama speaks about the economy Tuesday at Osawatomie High School in Osawatomie, Kansas.

Charlie Riedel/AP

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Washington

When George W. Bush was president, he eschewed discussion of his place in history. President Obama seems to welcome it.

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Whether it’s his first presidential campaign launch in Springfield, Ill., Abraham Lincoln’s home town, or praise for Ronald Reagan’s ability to change the nation’s trajectory, Mr. Obama regularly dips into the presidential record books for current meaning.

Tuesday it was the turn of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president and a Republican. In a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, where President Roosevelt delivered a call for a progressive “New Nationalism” 101 years ago, Obama played off similar populist themes of equal opportunity and fairness through taxes and regulation.

“I’m here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own,” Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at Osawatomie High School. “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.”

In his time, Roosevelt was called a radical, a socialist, even a communist for his policy proposals, Obama noted. “But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he 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 repeated his call for an extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut, which is set to expire at the end of the month. Congress has been stymied over how to pay for a continuation of that tax holiday, which, if it expires, would cost 160 million Americans an average of $1,000 in higher taxes, Obama said. Also at issue is an extension of federal unemployment benefits and the “doc fix,” which prevents doctors who accept Medicare from taking a pay cut.

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