President Obama: Populist for a Day?

Most political observers agree that President Obama has gotten his populist mojo back, at least in front of the camera, just in time for the 2012 campaign.  Recent appearances have proven that the 2008 campaign Obama is out in full force again, as opposed to the ‘can’t we all just be bipartisan and get along‘ Obama who’s been governing out of frustration much of the last few years.

The “new, old” Obama was on display this week in Kansas, invoking the name of another populist president, Theodore Roosevelt:

“I’m here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we’re greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. These aren’t Democratic values or Republican values. These aren’t 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values. And we have to reclaim them.”

He’s clearly in full rallying-the-base mode with this kind of speech and he’s going to need every last vote from that group to win in 2012.  Observers are saying this recent speech is reminiscent in tone of the one he made at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when he was just a mere blip on the political radar as Illinois State Senator Obama:

“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us — the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ‘anything goes.’ Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an “awesome God” in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

So as a Democrat, I should be happy and excited that the President has gotten his political groove back, right?  Sadly, while his public appearances are great, there are some other headlines that suggest that the President doesn’t know which side his political bread is buttered on.

Two announcements from the administration suggest that the President’s 2012 campaign team has started a strategy of pandering to the conservatives.  First, a recommendation by the Food and Drug Administration to allow the contraceptive Plan B to be sold over the counter to all customers was shot down by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  News reports say that’s the first time that has ever happened.  Ever.

The FDA’s recommendation would have allowed teens under 18 to have access to what’s often called the “morning after” pill without a prescription, based on the research provided to the FDA.  According to a post at RH Reality Check:

[The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research] carefully considered whether younger females were able to understand how to use Plan B One-Step.  Based on the information submitted to the agency, CDER determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the data supported a finding that adolescent females could use Plan B One-Step properly without the intervention of a health care provider.  [Emphasis added.]

As if that story about what seems to be a wavering commitment to reproductive rights isn’t enough to make me question what’s going on in those strategy sessions at the White House, there are now news reports that the Obama administration has launched a high profile investigation into food stamp fraud just as 2012 is upon us.    Banking fraud and Wall Street fraud that caused our economy to tank in 2008?  No investigation.  Possible wrongdoing by hungry Americans?  That’s SOOO much more important to fixing economy, isn’t it.

So in addition to populist-sounding speeches, the White House apparently has decided that the way to win re-election is to go on the attack against pregnant teens and food- stamp recipients.  Maybe polling shows those demographics don’t vote much, so the administration can ignore promises made in the past in order to woo some conservative voters who don’t like reproductive rights or Americans who need financial assistance.

So I have to ask — which Barack Obama is running for president?  The one who wants to lift all boats and make us a better nation by bringing us together and advocating policies that will benefit us all?  Or the one who seemingly is directing his administration to keep some conservatives happy?

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want any of the Republican candidates to become president in 2012.  But President Obama should be careful about playing with policy to allay conservative fears about teen sex or poor people on food stamps.   If he’s not careful, he’ll start alienating those who fervently supported him and campaigned for him four years ago.  He’s already slipping in his support numbers from that group.  If he doesn’t want to move back to Chicago until 2016, he really can’t afford to be seen as abandoning the philosophies of his base in favor of a handful of red votes.

Image via barackobama.com

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