The competition is stiff, but there may be no more abused word in political discourse than “populism.” (“pop·u·lism. A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.”) It came in for a special flogging today, as pundits groped for ways to describe President Obama’s eloquent-but-mishmashy State of the Union address. Even The Hollywood Gossip was asking, “Will Populist Message Help Obama?” The answer is that it certainly could—if he had one. While Obama nodded toward populist themes last night—chiding the irresponsible financial sector, lashing out at the do-nothing Congress, pledging to make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes—you’re hardly on Huey Long terrain when you frame a speech around the military virtues of everyone being in it together, or make a point of quoting Abraham Lincoln saying that “government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.” Certainly, this re-election-year address was a far cry from the triangulation of Bill Clinton in 1996, when he famously declared, “The era of big government is over.” Obama’s defense of government’s role was occasionally strong and, after months of listening to the Republican presidential hopefuls bash the public sector, bracing. But unlike his rousing December speech in Osawatomie, Kansas,—the State of the Union blanketed its populist elements in feel-good centrism. Still, next to Mitch Daniels’ somnolent Republican response, it was downright fiery.
So They Say
“@SpeakerBoehner Just read some of your tweets and you seem pretty angry kind sir. I can see you on tv but you're not smiling. Hope you're ok.”
—Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, tweeting during the State of the Union.
Daily Meme: The Reviews Are In!
- Jonathan Cohn: The State of the Union was more of the same, which is good.
- Erick Erickson: It was “all about letting you know that government is going to do everything for you and when it can’t keep its promises, it will take from the successful and give to you.”
- E.J. Dionne: It had “a black-and-white, 1940s movie feel.”
- Peter Beinert: “This was not the speech we’ve been waiting for.”
- Derek Thompson: It was like Occupy Wall Street: too small-bore for the crisis, too big for Congress.
- Steve Kornacki: It had “an unmistakably combative and populist tone.”
- Andrew Sullivan: “We voted for Obama; now we find we got another Clinton.”
What We're Writing
- Patrick Caldwell writes that a Marco Rubio endorsement could swing the Florida primary—but his ties to both Romney and Gingrich make it difficult.
- Harold Meyerson hears echoes of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Truman in Obama’s State of the Union.
What We're Reading
- Republicans dream of Mitch Daniels as an alternative to Newt and Mitt, but he has some baggage of his own.
- David Frum explains why GOP leaders distrust Gingrich.
- Influence-peddlers: Top Romney advisors were Freddie Mac lobbyists.
- Could Newt be Obama’s toughest opponent?
- Gingrich hits Romney on “self-deportation.”
- Elephants never forget: Elliott Abrams on Gingrich’s loud opposition to Reagan’s foreign policy.
- Which SOTU lines got the most applause? (Notice: not the spilled-milk joke).
Poll of the Day
Romney leads Gingrich among Florida Latinos, 35 to 21 percent.
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