The president conceded that the country is in the midst of a consuming re-examination on his watch, prompting national movements against both government spending and an economy that many feel disproportionately favors the elite. Obama went on the offensive about income equality, saying it distorts democracy and derails the American dream.
Responding to those who want to cut taxes and regulation in the belief success will trickle down, Obama said: "Here's the problem: It doesn't work. It's never worked."
Obama noted that Theodore Roosevelt was called a "radical, a socialist, even a communist" for putting forth ideas in his last campaign such as an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage for women, unemployment insurance and a progressive income tax.
Left unsaid: Roosevelt's Bull Moose campaign in 1912 failed to return him to the White House.
Obama attempted to sum up the pain and peril for a society where the middle class is struggling. But he also called for individual responsibility.
"In the end," he said, "rebuilding this economy based on fair play, a fair shot and a fair share will require all of us to see the stake we have in each other's success."
Obama also challenged he big banks that took bailouts from American taxpayers, pointing to "a deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street." He said banks that were bailed out had an obligation to work to close that trust deficit and should be doing more to help remedy past mortgage abuses and assist middle-class taxpayers.
Ben Feller contributed from Washington. AP writers Erica Werner and Kasie Hunt contributed to this report.
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