Sunday, January 22, 2012

Can Big "D" Democratic Populism Work Twice?

Earlier today, I received an email from the Obama re-election campaign which outlined the major themes of Tuesday's State of the Union address. Watching, I could help but notice a developing trend in the President's recent speeches--a trend that began during a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas in December. In that speech, President Obama spent nearly an hour arguing that the present is a "make-or-break moment for the middle class and those trying to get into the middle class." In just two minutes and thirty seconds, today's message to supporters closely echoed the two main points of the Osawatomie speech: growing income gaps are a problem and big business is the enemy.

It seems we've stumbled on his message heading into November, and it oozes Democratic populism. Presidents in the past have come into office (including Barack Obama himself) on a liberal populist message, but championing that message while wearing the suit of the ultimate Washington elite has proved difficult, sending men like Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter to one-term presidencies. Bill Clinton, while in a very similar situation to Obama, chose the "triangulation" method and captured the middle of the political spectrum in the process--becoming the first Democrat to win back-to-back presidential elections since FDR. That doesn't seem to be the Obama way.

Considering populist movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street dominating the news throughout his time in office, it's possible that Obama has found a winning message. On the other hand, however, it's possible that this message just can't win twice. Democrats have tried to sell the "anti-Big Business/pro-working and middle class" message since William Jennings Bryan at the turn of the 20th Century. Since then, only Clinton, FDR, and Wilson have been elected to the presidency twice--and Clinton never received 50% of the vote.

In case you're interested:
State of the Union Preview video
Osawatomie Speech

1 comment:

TJE said...

Interesting ideas. We'll be discussing the state of political ideas in a few weeks.