10 ways Obama tries to sound populist

By |
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Taxes,Barack Obama,PennAve,Wall Street,Income Inequality,Pay Equity

If there's one message President Obama (and basically all politicians) wants to stick, it's that he is looking out for the little guy.

Obama has called combating income inequality the defining challenge of his second term and repeatedly rails against Republicans for protecting the wealthy at the expense of everybody else.

The president on Thursday is trumpeting a similar message with his bid to crack down on U.S. companies that relocate overseas to reduce their taxes.

Obama has deployed a variety of catch phrases — with mixed results — to brandish his populist credentials. Here are the 10 that have gained the most traction:

1. Economic patriotism

“Let’s rally around an economic patriotism that says, instead of giving more tax breaks to millionaires, let’s give tax breaks to working families to help pay for child care or college.” — July 10, economic remarks in Austin, Texas

The latest version of the White House's central economic message is that we all have a patriotic duty to make investments in programs that will improve society. Whether it's spending on roads or education, Obama says, Republicans and Democrats should rally around the idea of making life a little bit easier for those who don't have the same advantages as the wealthy. The president is employing the patriotism theme as virtually all of his spending initiatives remain stalled on Capitol Hill.

2. Fair share

“Now, Republicans have a different view. Just last month, their party actually made it a part of their platform to let folks at the very top play by a different set of rules, and avoid paying their fair share by stashing their money in overseas tax havens, a practice that also adds billions of dollars to our deficits every year.” — Feb. 28, speech at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting

This is arguably Team Obama’s most-used rhetorical technique, insisting that the president’s policies are rooted in basic fairness. Who's against making sure everybody gets a fair shake? Well, Republicans, Obama would argue.

3. Warren Buffett’s secretary

“The fact of the matter is that Warren Buffett’s secretary should not pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett.” — Sept. 27, 2011, Los Angeles fundraiser

Buffett’s secretary sure has generated a lot of headlines. And that’s because Buffett, an Obama supporter, is the president’s poster child for rich Americans who say they should pay more taxes. Expect Buffett’s secretary to come up many more times before Obama leaves office.

4. Didn’t build that

“Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” — July 13, 2012, campaign event in Roanoke, Va.

That comment infamously backfired on Obama, giving Republican rival Mitt Romney fodder to argue the president was bad for business. Obama countered that he was trying to articulate the values of community -- that businesses thrive when surrounded both by government and private investments. Obama would have better served by a simple, “We're all in this together.”

5. Class warfare

“The 98 percent of Americans who make $250,000 a year or less, your taxes shouldn’t go up. And that idea is not — it's not class warfare to say that somebody like me can afford to do a little bit more. It’s just basic math.” — April 18, 2012, campaign event in Dearborn, Mich.

The president is well aware of the GOP rebuke to his income-inequality rhetoric: that he is pitting different classes of Americans against one another. That's why Obama brings up class warfare all the time, just so he can argue that it's not what he is doing.

6. Equal pay for women

“We saw Senate Republicans block an up-or-down vote on ensuring equal pay for women. I went ahead and took action on my own to make it easier for women to find out whether they’re being treated fairly at the workplace and to be able to take action.” – May 22, remarks on tourism

An extension of Obama's fairness argument, Obama repeatedly brings up the wage disparity between men and women. Less convenient for the president, however, is that women who work at the White House make 88 cents for every dollar earned by a man. And White House press secretary Josh Earnest conceded this month that the administration was not the “perfect example” on the issue.

7. 1 percent

“A family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.” — Dec. 4, 2013, economic mobility speech in Washington

Just ask Romney how often Obama’s supporters like to evoke the so-called 1 percent. The label is now synonymous with greed, due largely to the efforts of Obama’s re-election campaign.

8. Main Street

“The fact is this crisis has left a huge deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. And major banks that were rescued by the taxpayers have an obligation to go the extra mile in helping to close that deficit of trust. At minimum, they should be remedying past mortgage abuses that led to the financial crisis.” — Dec. 6, 2011, “populism speech” in Osawatomie, Kan.

The White House billed this speech in the Jayhawk State as the centerpiece of the president’s populist agenda. For the president, it was the ideal arena to highlight the dichotomy between Wall Street and Main Street. The implication is that Main Street is everything Wall Street isn’t — honest, decent and restricted by a different set of rules.

9. Nation of takers

“The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” — Jan. 21, 2013, second Inaugural Address

Obama’s not a fan of this common GOP critique. In his most expansive defense of government, the president rejected the phrase to champion the importance of entitlement programs and how they level the playing field.

10. Made in America

“Let’s make sure the next generation of women are getting a fair deal. Let’s make sure the next generation of good manufacturing jobs are made in America. Let’s make it easier, not harder, for companies to bring those jobs back home.” — July 22, remarks at signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

Nothing screams populist more than those three sacred words. Red, white and blue, baby. This reporter lost count of the number of times Obama uttered this phrase at somewhere around a dozen — in the last two months.

View article comments Leave a comment

More from