Obama the Populist

Tonight is the State of the Union address.  It is Obama’s last before the election in November, and will likely be the first major broadside against his Republican opposition in the coming contest.  By all accounts, Obama’s will be a populist message to the American people.  In general, populism is defined as “a common theme compares ‘the people’ against ‘the elite,’ and urges social and political system changes.”  Obama has been working on such populist themes for a little while now, even as he’s appeared rather quiet in the face of the continuing tumultuousness of the Republican contest.

America’s been working on its own populist themes, too:  the Tea Party and the Occupy movements.  The time may indeed be ripe for such kind of rhetoric–and action.  Is this, however, just a political move?  Does Obama really hold these principles?  How will they work themselves out in the real world and will they truly benefit the American people?  Will his proposals even be considered by a hostile Congress?  These are the matters that Americans of all political persuasions will have to debate after tonight.

In any case, if Obama is indeed turning his not insignificant campaigning skills (remember 2008?) to this new theme, the Republicans had better be ready.  Unfortunately for them, the two remaining candidates who could most powerfully offe an opposing populist view (Ron Paul and Rick Santorum) have little chance at the nomination.  Ron Paul’s libertarian populism was born for this kind of debate, and Rick Santorum’s modest lifestyle would lend itself well to being “of the people.”

The two leading candidates may be rather ill-suited to respond to populist sentiments.  Newt Gingrich could do it, but his unpredictability, years inside the Beltway, and questionable activities and reimbursement as a (pseudo)-lobbyist raise a lot of questions.  And Mitt Romney?  Well, he is incredibly rich and has an almost pathological inability to connect with the common man and woman.  He’s still likely to get the nomination, but it is somewhat difficult to see how he could ever compete in an election framed by populism and “I feel your pain” moments