The American Bear


The working class needs Obama the Populist | John Stoehr

For the first time in my life, a president has the guts to make economic injustice the centrepiece of his re-election campaign and has made a tax on the very, very rich (minimum 30 per cent) the centrepiece of his domestic policy platform.

Yet some Democrats want President Obama to stop talking about fairness and talk instead about “opportunity”.

A survey by Third Way, a neoliberal think tank in Washington, finds that voters in swing states prefer an “opportunity framework on the economy over one based on fairness”. The survey describes centrist voters as “Soccer Moms”, “Reagan Democrats" and "Rockefeller Republicans”. “Fairness” is evidently too populist; it’s not what they want to hear.

I’m no pollster, but I know one thing. Nobody gets fired up over a lack of opportunity. But injustice can spark a movement. And given that the major parties have grown more alike, not less, Obama’s decision to go populist is truly a third way.


Third Way’s recent recommendation isn’t just out of touch; it’s misplaced. Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney aren’t fighting over just any swing voter. They are fighting for working class voters with middle or lower incomes.

These are not voters who care about an abstraction such as “opportunity”. That doesn’t mean anything. What they care about are concrete things such as jobs, wages and mortgages. They don’t want handouts or pity. They want a fair shot.

This election year is Obama’s chance to be the president of the people. The country is so far to the right that populism looks radical. Fine. That’s the kind of radicalism we need.