Our Populist President?

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Obama and Populism

I could believe President Obama’s postmortem take that the same populist sentiment that propelled Scott Brown to office also earlier sent him to the White House — if we saw fresh liberal Democrats winning seats in places like Alabama against entrenched Washington Republican insiders. But I don’t think that is happening quite yet.

The populist anger that, in sequential fashion, accounted for Bush’s drop in the polls, Republicans’ loss of majority status in Congress, and Obama’s winning the presidency, was predicated on unhappiness with the war, out-of-control federal spending and deficits, congressional corruption, and Wall Street.

Obama & Co., however, have trumped Bush on most of those counts: They have quadrupled the deficit; Geithner, Dodd, and Rangel have shown an even more cavalier attitude toward the law than certain congressional Republicans did; and Obama has surpassed Bush in bailouts and guarantees to the big banks.

In short, I don’t think those who are angry about out-of-control federal spending and the proposed government takeover of healthcare see Obama as a fellow traveler.

Reality Check

It was fanciful for the president on the eve of this week’s election to warn that the direction of his agenda would be predicated on the outcome in Massachusetts — and then, roughly 24 hours later, send his operatives out to assure everyone that Scott Brown’s victory had not much to do with anything in Washington.

When the most interviewed, photographed, and talkative president in recent history insists that his problems are a result of neglecting to communicate with the American people (“We lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people”), something seems unhinged.

All that deception and contradiction do nothing to mitigate the popular outrage against Obama’s broken promises on everything from airing the healthcare debate on C-Span to closing down Guantanamo this week. The growing denial of reality is really hard to juxtapose with the effectiveness of Obama’s 2008 campaign; it almost reminds one of Nixon’s slick 1972 CREEP campaign followed by his descent into “Let me be perfectly clear” denials during much of 1973. Perhaps, in a way, it all makes perfect sense: The arrogance instilled by a successful campaign leads to excess that finishes in nemesis.

Obama and Campaign Financing

It was rather incredible for Barack Obama to express outrage over the Supreme Court’s pruning of McCain-Feingold’s regulation of public financing and corporate campaign donations, since in June 2008 Obama became the first presidential candidate to forgo public financing in the general election, expecting that by doing so he could raise several millions more, much of it from the Wall Street and big-money interests that he now serially demonizes.

The problem with Obama’s hypocrisy is not just that, like most politicians, he does not do what he says, but that he fudges so vehemently and loudly and, to be candid, shamelessly. It was not enough just to say he would air the healthcare debate on C-Span; he had to repeat that mythology ad nauseam, and use it as proof of his new hope-and-change politics — even as Democratic insiders soon crafted strategies behind closed doors and bought votes with multimillion-dollar public bribes. Guantanamo was to be closed this week, and tribunals and renditions were to be ended — we heard those boasts constantly over the past three years, as proof that Obama was not George Bush.

Now, stung by the Massachusetts rebuke, Obama apparently has begun his makeover with a rhetorical assault against the Court’s campaign-donation decision, as if he were a sort of “Fighting Bob” Lafollette in hot pursuit of “fat cat” bankers.

Sorry, this is transparently manufactured. Let me repeat: No presidential candidate did more to destroy the idea of public campaign financing than Barack Obama, who set a record in private donations from Wall Street, ended a three-decade-long bipartisan tradition of curbing presidential campaign expenditures, and, once elected, proceeded to nominate a number of Wall Street insiders.

©2010 Victor Davis Hanson

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