He portrayed a struggle between Wall Street and the great mass of Americans in biblical terms, announcing: "The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."
Roosevelt did not merely express agreement with critics of Wall Street as an economic and political force, he defined that criticism. Throughout his tenure, FDR decried "economic royalists." "Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people," he argued. "The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power."
That was blunt language. Blunt enough to clarify the lines of division on questions of economic democracy, and to rally citizens -- and ultimately mass movements -- to the cause of economic democracy.
Obama would do well to recognize, as Roosevelt did in the 1930s, that the United States is not just wrestling with economic and fiscal issues. This is a time for addressing critical questions of how democracy itself will operate.
For so long as the "money power" is able to use its resources to reanimate and reassert failed ideas, the United States will fail to consider a proper range of responses to economic issues. The balance will tip too far toward those who pay for campaigns, and for the lobbyists who seek to undo the results of lost elections.
President Obama should, in the style and tradition of FDR, declare that he is against austerity and against the broken politics that keeps buying a place in the debate for "Fix the Debt" fantasies that the American people have repeatedly and soundly rejected. And he can do that by going beyond mere agreement with reformers to a full and muscular embrace of the reform agenda that shifts the defining power in our discourse away from corporations and toward citizens.