The Audacity of Populism

Obama dons a venerable mantle, but Bryan's real descendants may be media stars.

January 2010 was the month President Barack Obama tried to get in touch with his inner populist. Shaken by a Republican victory in Massachusetts and the likely defeat of his health-care bill, he adopted the lingo of an insurrectionary orator, calling out the big banks in his State of the Union address.

"If these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again," he said, "they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need." For much of the media, that was enough to conjure an image of Mr. Obama in bib overalls at the head of a pitchfork army.

That's one possible reaction to the president's rhetoric. Here's another: How can anyone possibly take this pose seriously? If all you knew about Barack Obama was that he once held a job called "community organizer," you might be forgiven for finding something populist in his persona. The rest of you have no excuses. Even when attacking the malefactors of great wealth, Mr. Obama evinces all the insurgent anger of Charlie Rose obsequiously interviewing a starlet.

To cast this man as a populist, you needn't merely imagine an alternate America where a William Jennings Bryan, the explosive orator who ran unsuccessfully three times for the White House in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has actually captured the presidency. You need to imagine a Bryan who went to Harvard and taught at an elite law school, who received more money than his opponent from Wall Street and the corporate media, who personally intervened during the presidential campaign to help a bank bailout become law, who surrounded himself with advisers drawn from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and whose solution to an economic crisis has been to propose a program of corporate subsidies. A populist? Even at his most liberal, pushing a plan to move the country toward universal health coverage, Mr. Obama's idea of advancing reform is to cut deals with all the industries involved so they'll back his legislation.

Read the rest of this story in The Wall Street Journal.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Era of call-in radio?

    That has been around my entire life and I am pushing 50. Did you think it was gone or new? Hard to tell from the wording.

  • Jesse Walker||

    It isn't new. But people like Father Coughlin didn't host call-in shows; they simply editorialized on the air. So I'm distinguishing the modern, participatory talk show from that older style of broadcasting.

  • Suki||

    Good Morning reason!

    HI John!

  • bleek obummer||

    Today is Debthog day. Each year for the next 20 years, the debthog comes out of his hole, looks around and sees massive government debt weighing on the economy. He goes back into his hole and hopes he still has a job next year.

  • .||

    Your creature needs a hyphen.
    Debt-Hog reads better.
    You're welcome.

  • Vice Versa Man||

    Oooh... now it makes sense. And here I thought it was "Deb-Thog day." "Deb-Thog" sounds much more monstrous than "Debt-Hog" though... I almost prefer it.

    Beware the DEB-THOG!

  • bleek obummer||

    Thanks .

    I agree.

  • RCTL||

    I love the movie Groundhog Day.

  • bleek obummer||

    @RCTL

    Great movie. The scary part is listening to Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You, Babe" over and over. And then realizing that Sonny went to Congress. Yikes!

  • The Editor||

    "Mr. Obama evinces all the insurgent anger of Sean Hannity obsequiously interviewing Sarah Palin"

    "all the insurgent anger of The Wall Street Journal obsequiously quoting a Republican mouth-piece"

    fixt

  • ||

    Wait, Charlie Rose has a fan rabid enough to post a sarcastic defense of him?

  • The Editor||

    Charlie Rose is the Elton John of interviewers. He rocks balls and you know it you're just afraid what the cool kids will think if they catch you watching him.

  • RichN||

    That would be Sir Elton John to you, pissant!

  • RCTL||

    "the likely defeat of his health-care bill". Do you guys do anything but drink at staff meetings? It's dead/it isn't, majority wants it/they don't, doublethink/I'll have a double vodka...

  • bleek obummer||

    Q: What is better than what the Reason staff drinks?

    A: Whatever Keith Olbermann smokes.

  • RCTL||

    I think he is crazy but then again I think Beck is too.

  • bleek obummer||

    Beck is crazy, Olbermann is a whole different kinda nuts.

    The right hides behind a facade of "fair and balanced" and the left seems to think appearing to be one or two steps away from the nut ward is the way to portray yourself. I guess everyone has to have some kind of schtick.

    If we ever need to mentally torture anyone, I suggest a montage of Olbermann, O'Reilly, Beck and Maddow. Over and over and over until they give up the goods. And if they still resist, hit 'em with 24/7 Limbaugh.

  • RCTL||

    Is the truce on?

  • bleek obummer||

    @RCTL

    Truce between who?

  • RCTL||

    betweeen this
    "bleek obummer|2.2.10 @ 6:49AM|#
    This message was not authorized or paid for by bleek obummer."
    and this
    "bleek obummer|2.2.10 @ 9:07PM|#
    lesson learned?"
    and between this
    "RCTL|1.28.10 @ 5:56AM|#
    Now for some girl-on-girl action!" and this
    "RCTL|1.29.10 @ 8:35AM|#
    Quantum physics can't even explain ;-)"

  • bleek obummer||

    What is the context of "This message was not authorized or paid for by bleek obummer." and "lesson learned?"

    I found "Now for some girl-on-girl action!" and "Quantum physics can't even explain ;-)".

  • RCTL||

    Why do you need to know? Is it you or not?

  • RCTL||

  • bleek obummer||

    @RCTL

    Plus I'm a libertarian (fiscal conservative/social liberal) and you're a liberal/liberal. That means I'll agree with you about half the time. We can see at least eye to eye, just not both eyes.

  • bleek obummer||

    @RCTL

    Ah - I guess the Reason search engine doesn't go down to that level in the thread.

    "Senator, you're no Jack Kenn..Joseph Heller" - not by my hand

    "This message was not authorized or paid for by bleek obummer." - by my hand (against the previous comment)

    "lesson learned?" - not by my hand

    Imitation may be the best form of flattery but only when the imitation makes sense or is something I would say. In the past, I have used something like "as xxxx would say" to say something in a similar vein. I may have done it to you.

    I don't know about a truce - how about a ceasefire like after the Korean War. You be North Korea, I'll be South Korea. Sorry - couldn't resist.

  • RCTL||

    Are you also saying that you are not Peter North Too?

  • bleek obummer||

    I'm not Peter North Too.

  • bleek obummer||

    Also, I'm not Chad, Tony, heller, MNG, Fist of ..., John Tagliaferro, Suki, Episiarch, etc. Just bleek obummer until I come up with a better handle. But I like this one except when someone steals it.

  • bleek obummer||

    You really got unloaded on in the blog entry:

    http://reason.com/archives/2009/12/24/dump-the-audience

    no matter what name you used.

  • RCTL||

    I apologize and I agree. I can't believe you read all the old threads but dump the audience was a riot. Hmm, you know that the Korean War is not a rock band.

  • bleek obummer||

    I was doing my research. Know your adversary and all that.

    Don't they teach anything about the Korean War in school anymore?

  • RCTL||

    Just a tip: posts such as "Now for some girl-on-girl action!" are written by another adversary (aka Peter North). Research?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQYG8wRr_H0

  • bleek obummer||

    My research shows Peter North is a porn star known for his "volume". The posts here appear to be similar. He doesn't appear to have opinions, he just spews. Don't engage him/her/it.

  • RCTL||

    Truce on but I had noticed you started posting around the same time I did and another co-incidence is that you post on the same page as who I think is PN/RECTAL etc. BTW, I am more like Switzerland than North Korea.

  • bleek obummer||

    I comment on blog entries that interest me. Unfortunately until I started, I was only a reader and didn't decide to get into the fray. Timing is merely coincidence.

    I've been to Switzerland - much nicer than North Korea seems to be. Maybe there is hope for you yet.

  • RCTL||

    Loved Chillon Castle but not les Suisses.

  • bleek obummer|||

    If by Switzerland you're implying neutrality, you should a book on their less than neutral assistance of the Nazis during World War 2. Start with "The Swiss, the Gold and the Dead" by Jean Ziegler. Make you choke on that chocolate.

  • ||

    Populism isn't so popular when you're tinkering with the State's machinery. Diffusion of costs and concentration of benefits and all that. By the way, Chalie Rose's Ozzie interview was kickass.

  • ||

    We have “only” ourselves to blame for this mess:

    This quote came from the Czech Republic. Someone has it all figured out. It’s sad that most of the people of the US don’t.

    “The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the presidency. It will be easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president.

    The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails us. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince.

    The republic can survive a Barack Obama, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him their president.”

    Author Unknown

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