Ron Radosh

Barack Obama's Faux Populism

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.”
Yes, clearly, as I indicated a while back, Klein’s road trip through America, and his sympathetic account of his meeting with a Tea Party group, has managed to make him sensible. I would suspect that had he not seen America, Klein would have been among the legion of liberal journalists going wild over the OWS protestors. Now he writes that “Obama was faced with a fairly stark economic-policy choice after he was elected, and he chose wrong.” Instead of supporting reform of Wall Street, such as reinstituting Glass-Steagall, which prevented banks from the kind of derivatives gambling that led to the housing bubble, and as Klein writes, making them pay “a price for their bailouts,” Obama instead courted and worked with Wall Street, who pushed their support his way.

As Klein points out, “Obama went with the Wall Street establishment.” He chose Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, chose Lawrence Summers as chief of the National Economic Council — the man who, Klein notes, previously backed the “the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in 2000, which prohibited the government from regulating financial derivatives. That alone should have disqualified him from public service in a Democratic administration.”

Now, on his blog at The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead writes about how foolish it is for “the Democrats to brand themselves as born-again populists.” Taking up the scandal of former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s recklessness as CEO of MF Global—a story that the Left seems to be ignoring completely, since Corzine was one of the most leftist Governors in the country- and as Mead puts it,” is precisely the kind of story that the Democratic Party doesn’t want as Wall Street stands occupied.” Mead then presents the following paragraph that appeared in a Washington Post story about Corzine and his firm:

The bankrupt financial company MF Global, now under federal investigation for possibly misusing clients’ money, is one of the top sources of contributions for President Obama’s reelection, complicating the campaign’s effort to turn public anger at Wall Street into a political advantage.

Employees of the company have given $108,650 to Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, according to federal records. MF Global’s chairman and chief executive, former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, has raised at least $500,000 for the campaign and the DNC as a “bundler,” or volunteer fundraiser.

I think that the company’s clients who seem to have suddenly lost hundreds of millions of dollars from its accounts with MF Global aren’t too happy about how the firm managed to give so much to the President’s re-election funds, while their own money has disappeared. Oh, we must acknowledge that Mitt Romney too has got some contribution from one MF Global employee — “a $2,500 check from a company trader based in Stamford, Conn.”

In the meantime, the story informs us that if Obama is re-elected, Corzine is on line to be appointed Treasury Secretary. It also informs its readers that “Obama’s links to financial companies don’t end with MF Global. The president has raised $15.6 million from the financial industry for his reelection effort and the DNC, according to a Washington Post analysis. It continues:

The third-largest source of cash for Obama is Chicago-based Chopper Trading, which employs a controversial high-frequency trading technique. The firm’s chief executive, Raj Fernando, held a fundraiser at his home with Vice President Biden and has raised at least $200,000 for the campaign and the DNC.

A federal study of the 2010 “flash crash,” when the stock market briefly lost $1 trillion in value only to recover shortly thereafter, placed the blame squarely on high-frequency trading technologies like those employed by Chopper. Other studies have cited high-frequency trading, which now accounts for more than half of all trades, as contributing to stock market volatility. A company spokesman did not return a request for comment, but defenders of the industry dispute those studies.

And hence the truth of Mead’s conclusion:

Blue Wall Street is a major force in the Democratic Party; indeed, the Democrats couldn’t survive without it. This is not just because of the campaign contributions, pleasant as those are. It is also about ideas and policy: Blue Wall Street understands how Democratic aspirations (like mass home ownership) can be achieved through the financial markets — for a while at least. It will be Blue Wall Street that floats the bond issues that keep debt-bedraggled cities and states functioning. And in New York, it is Blue Wall Street that pays the taxes and provides the jobs that keep Gotham from Detroit style decay.

Smart voters know that the anti-Wall Street campaign is meaningless. It is meant only to placate the left-wing base of the Democratic Party. A friend of mine has spent some time recently at the Zucotti Park OWS, and spoken with many of the demonstrators. He asked some of them what they thought about the brewing Corzine scandal, and most did not know what he was talking about, although some remembered he had been Governor of New Jersey. People like these protestors don’t need facts or truth — only rhetoric, the type that the President is ready to exploit for the purposes of his re-election.

As for the President’s program, and his attempts to move the United States into a nation whose system represents a European type social-democracy, how ironic it is to find the Wall Street banks providing the funds for an administration whose favored economic and political changes will further erode the possibilities of our nation’s economic renewal, and that will likely dampen the chances for business revival even more than they are at present.