Obama Plays Populist

There are those, like Ezra Klein, who think President Obama somehow wimped out in his speech at Cooper Union. But my take is different.

I think that, certainly by his standards, that was a fiery populist speech—arguably, at least in tone, one of the toughest he's given as president. He essentially said that anyone who doesn't go along with his and the Democrats' proposals are selfish, irresponsible, crooked, or all three.

What is Obama up to with this? He's trying to counter antigovernment populism with antibusiness populism. No, he didn't demand that CEOs give their bonuses back, but he portrayed "Wall Street"—a phrase he repeated eight times in a short speech—as the ground zero of all that's wrong with the markets. He and his advisers know what the public (and private) polling shows: that Wall Street and banks are deeply unpopular.

In the Gallup poll, when people were asked whether they wanted more government regulation of "banks" they were ambivalent, 46 percent yes and 43 percent no. But when asked whether they wanted more regulation of "Wall Street banks" the numbers rose to 50 and 36.

Obama has expressed a willingness to cut deals on some fronts—the $50 billion "shut-down" fund in particular—but I still think he wouldn't mind a GOP filibuster, if they're self-destructive enough to try one.