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Ron Radosh

Barack Obama’s Faux Populism

November 4th, 2011 - 2:41 pm

As Barack Obama shifts openly to woo the political Left, including those who endorse Occupy Wall Street, he is seeking to don the mantle of the serious left-wing populist, a Huey Long for the 21st Century, threatening the Washington establishment as the voice of the outsiders. When Long was alive and challenging Franklin Delano Roosevelt he created a “share the wealth” movement that was gaining ground quickly, and might have seriously harmed the President’s chance for re-election had Long not been gunned down by a disgruntled local opponent of his Louisiana tyranny.

Conservatives of the day did not like FDR but compared to Long’s demagogic and irrational economic policies that appealed to the have-nots with a quick and easy answer based on complete redistribution of wealth by the state through executive fiat, Roosevelt was a cautious moderate. Long gained a national backing when he openly criticized the New Deal’s failures. But Obama does not face any opposition from his own left wing, only scattered cries of dismay from people like Cornel West and Tavis Smiley whom most of their common constituencies see as a group of eccentrics.

Obama has decided to take up on his own the program and calls of the Left in the hope that come election day they will rally to his side as they did in 2008 to provide the local cadre to get out the vote from blacks, minorities and the middle-class that has been hit hard by the White House’s own disastrous economic policies. What better way to get their support than to deflect attention from the programs of his own administration, and join the chorus calling for attacking the banks, blaming Wall Street, and demonizing wealth creators.

But lately even former Obama stalwarts have pointed out the phoniness of the President’s sudden populist mantle. Writing in a recent edition of Time, Joe Klein, formerly one of Obama’s most passionate boosters, has dubbed the President “An Implausible Populist.” As Klein writes: “But there are problems with the President’s new populist tack. The first is the OWS movement itself, which includes a generous measure of weirdos, ideologues and free-range troublemakers. A recent, unscientific New York magazine poll of 100 demonstrators found that 34% believed the U.S. government is no better than al-Qaeda. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the OWS protesters managed, before long, to destroy the credibility of a worthy political complaint in a spasm of puerile extremism. The other problem is the President’s credibility as an anti–Wall Street crusader. He has none.”

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