Populism and the POTUS

“He seems to always be in campaign mode, where he treats people in the other party as enemies rather than partners.”
– Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), on CBS This Morning, Wednesday, lamenting President Obama’s post State of the Union swing through North Carolina and Georgia to raise support for the agenda he outlined

SOTU 2013 applause
President Obama moves the Congress and Cabinet to rise for a vote on gun legislation, during his State of the Union address, Tuesday night. (From whitehouse.gov video)

The best politicking is populism, because it is the bane of an elected official’s careful plans to hold onto power. It engages the rabble, you see, the dirty unwashed who, for the most part, have no direct stake in seeing their reps reelected, but who do have a practical interest in the success of their nation. That is why the president has taken his message to the people, and why a Congress that refuses to go against its various corporate and political allegiances, to make a deal with Obama, is so ruffled by it.

The last time someone took it to the people, the corporate funded Tea Party emerged, an entity of questionable sanity that exposed, among other things, the xenophobic, racist underbelly of the Republican Party. The degrading of the GOP brand by “a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party,” as Gen. Colin Powell put it on Meet the Press last month, has caused many in the party of Lincoln to ask, as the general did, “Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of [racially charged] discussion within the party?”

Well, the answer is obvious – power. They need the racists to respond to the dog whistles, so they can make it through this period of middle class backlash against a Republican regime that took us into an unnecessary war, compromised our justice system and treated our treasury like a candy store for their friends on Wall Street. They can only hope that the anger subsides before they lose control of government policy altogether.

In 2010, after the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives, pundits pointed to the “unpopularity” of the Affordable Care Act, and the way it caused a “grassroots” uprising against the way the Congress did its business. But, as in most midterm elections, it was mostly the politically engaged who showed up to vote, which, in 2010, was the Koch brothers backed Tea Party. What the president learned from his first midterm election was that his party and its supporters did a dreadful job of getting people to the polls, because they had disengaged since that historic night in November, 2008.

Hence Obama’s continuing “campaign mode,” as Ryan called it, because while our nation’s legal system isn’t decided through plebiscite, the people still have the power to petition the lawmakers who represent them, and the president’s efforts are designed with the power of public redress in mind. It’s why most modern presidents take to the road after a major policy speech like the State of the Union. “As is tradition,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the media on Air Force One, Wednesday, “the President is traveling the day after the State of the Union to amplify some of the aspects of his agenda that he talked about last night.”

He’ll do this as long as it works, and as long as the GOP’s charges of being a permanent campaigner don’t have adverse stickiness. “Look,” Carney explained to members of the press who were questioning the usefulness of promoting the infrastructure funding policy, “if you have the right proposal that has broad-based support, that is proven to be effective, you have to keep pushing it and fighting for it.”

It was our Founding Fathers who democratized the mystery of politics, giving us the tools of voice and action to affect change in our government. They not only didn’t want to serve a king; they wanted our country’s destiny to be in our own hands. When “broad-based support” won’t come from Congress, it has to come from us.

So when you see the president on the news the next few weeks, whether it’s in Ashville, North Carolina, or Ashland, Oregon, he will not only be explaining his policies. He will be empowering you, reminding you that, in our country, the veil of political participation is lifted, and the power is ours. Without us, and the exhortations of our president, as Carney said,”We wouldn’t get anything done in Washington.”

Now go engage yourself.


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