POLITICS

State of the Union: Populist-corporatist stew

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

Last year, President Obama's State of the Union was packed with National-Greatness Liberalism, America Inc., Win The Future, Industrial-Policy, corporatist talk. It was the rhetorical foundation for his economic model, full of regulations and subsidies aimed at guiding the U.S. economy in the way Obama thinks is best for business and national prosperity.

Some liberals disliked the corporatism at the time, and his phrase "win the future" was widely mocked.

Last month, President Obama went to Kansas and channelled his inner Teddy Roosevelt. The media called it a turn towards populism, and rhetorically it was. But substantively, the TR "New Nationalism" Obama invoked was the same corporatism-soaked National Greatness Liberalism Obama dealt 12 months ago. Teddy's economic interventionism generally tended towards helping the biggest and most connected businesses and freezing out smaller competition.

Obama said in Kansas "We simply cannot return to this brand of 'you're on your own' economics if we're serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country." This is exactly what General Electric CEO and Obama Jobs Czar Jeff Immelt says. Immelt has praised China and Germany where government and big business work together, lamenting America's laissez-faire approach "for so long, we've said, 'It just doesn't matter. Let whatever happens happen.'"

So tonight, Obama will offer plenty of populist talk, and use it to justify corporatism, such as energy subsidies, auto bailouts, and export subsidies. He'll also justify these subsidies on the ground of nationalism, cleverly turning the old liberal "we should be more like Europe and Japan" argument into a jingoistic-sounding "we can't let Europe and Japan beat us the race to green energy and exports!"

Many conservatives will assail the class-warfare tone they will detect. Most of the media will get excited over the populism. You should listen for the corporatism.

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