President Obama has been reborn as a populist. At a major speech this week in Kansas, Mr. Obama outlined the themes of his 2012 re-election campaign. He is a champion of the middle class, which he claims is under siege. Their enemies are big business, corporations and the rich.
He chose Osawatomie as the site of his address. It was there in 1910 that President Theodore Roosevelt unveiled his New Nationalism. Mr. Obama directly linked himself to Teddy Roosevelt. In his view, like Roosevelt, he is battling entrenched special interests. Like Roosevelt, he is calling for shared sacrifice on behalf of social justice. And like Roosevelt, he is a populist reformer who seeks to rein in corporate plutocracy.
There is only one problem with the White House’s narrative: It’s completely false. Mr. Obama is not a defender of the middle class but has been its mortal enemy. His policies have impoverished working- and middle-class Americans.
His massive stimulus failed to restore economic recovery. It dispensed hundreds of billions to cronies and political constituencies - public-sector unions, government bureaucracies and the green lobby. His trillion-dollar deficits and skyrocketing debt have mortgaged the future of our children. Our $15 trillion national debt threatens to bankrupt the country, ensuring years of austerity, painful budget cuts and crippling taxes. Obamacare suffocates businesses, stifles job creation and adds another unsustainable entitlement. It is creeping socialized medicine, which is wrecking the world’s finest health care system.
In addition, his administration’s anti-business regulations - discouraging offshore oil drilling, sanctioning Boeing for building a big plant in South Carolina, onerous labor and environmental mandates - and virulent class warfare have undermined economic growth. His cynical decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline has cost more than 20,000 jobs. The private sector - the engine of prosperity and upward mobility - has been savaged by bureaucratic sadism. If Mr. Obama truly cared for working Americans, he would end his experiment in European-style socialism.
Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, rightly said that debauching the currency was one of “the surest means to destroy capitalism.” Nothing destroys middle-class savings and consumer purchasing power better than inflation. It is the silent thief. Mr. Obama’s spending-and-borrowing orgy has led to the massive printing of money. The Federal Reserve, under his direct encouragement, has systematically reduced the value of the dollar. The result is growing inflation and the steady erosion of America’s standard of living. For Mr. Obama to claim he is a populist - a tribune of the 99 percent against the hated 1 percent - is akin to Madonna declaring she is the defender of chastity.
Moreover, Roosevelt was a real opponent of industrial capitalism’s excesses. He was a trust-buster, breaking up numerous monopolies. He brought the powerful railroad conglomerates to heel. He was a genuine populist. Mr. Obama, however, demonizes corporations and millionaires and billionaires, attacking them rhetorically in order to galvanize his liberal base. Yet he is in bed with them politically. He has bailed out Wall Street, the big banks, major insurance companies and the financial sector. In fact, the Dodd-Frank law enshrines the pernicious principle of “too big to fail” - guaranteeing that the federal government will prop up major banks and financial institutions with taxpayer funds. Mr. Obama’s crony corporatism is embodied in two words: Timothy Geithner. The treasury secretary has protected his former friends at Goldman Sachs as well as perpetuate bailouts. Contrary to myth, some of Mr. Obama’s biggest supporters and fundraisers come from Wall Street. He attacks them in speeches, but he loves taking their money. He is a classic liberal hypocrite.
Ironically, there is some truth to Mr. Obama paying homage to Roosevelt. TR was many things - a beloved president, an exponent of American nationalism, a gifted man and a brilliant orator. He invented the concept of the presidential bully pulpit. But for conservatives there was also a dark side. Roosevelt created the regulatory state, for which he has been deified by liberal historians. He praised government intervention in the economy. He helped to found modern progressivism. TR sought to empower labor unions, raise taxes on the rich and erect a centralized bureaucracy. He put forth the basic blueprint of liberalism: a society based on big government, big labor and big business. He despised the old constitutional republic; TR believed it to be an antiquated relic of the past, irrelevant in the new era of industrialism and empire.
He was also an imperialist who believed in nation-building and the warfare state. Finally, he was an ardent advocate for eugenics, arguing that “inferior races” - Eastern and Southern Europeans, blacks and Asians - were destined to be “absorbed” by Northern European, Anglo-Saxon civilization. Eventually, liberals such as Margaret Sanger would champion widespread contraception and abortion in the 1920s. She hoped to diminish the growing number of “undesirable races.” It was population control through racial genocide - a policy continued by liberals to this day. TR was part of this ugly movement; he fostered and unleashed many of its destructive impulses. He was the harbinger of liberal fascism - otherwise known as national socialism.
Mr. Obama is a direct ideological descendent of TR. His push toward social democracy, his appetite for imperial meddling abroad and fervent defense of abortion, contraception and homosexual rights represent the culmination of progressivism. TR was its founding father. Mr. Obama is its destructive grandson. The middle class does not need this kind of help.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.