Salena Zito

Obama's State of the Union address, his 11th unofficial/official start to his re-election campaign, marked yet another attempt to craft a populist catchphrase that can recapture a dissatisfied electorate.

"Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires," he said, vowing for the umpteenth time to raise taxes only on the 2 percent of families with incomes above $250,000 a year.

Beaming at him from the first lady's gallery box was Debbie Bosanek, Warren Buffett's secretary. Obama has used her repeatedly as an example of someone paying a higher tax rate than her super-rich boss.

"Now, you can call this class warfare all you want," he said. "But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."

Class warfare is not winning populism. Jacksonians are about being for something, not against success.

"Democrats have a love-hate relationship with populism," says Eldon Eisenach, University of Tulsa political science professor emeritus, "especially given their prominent role as part of a liberal establishment from, say, World War II through the 1980s."

Liberals have historic memories of populist violence (i.e., World War I), so their intellectuals just can't get "masses arise" out of their minds, Eisenach says. "So the populism of 'Occupy' or the attempt of Obama to capture a populist strain in Republican progressivism just won't work.

"The one theme (independents) have that is Jacksonian is to get the federal government off their backs and out of their pockets -- hardly what Obama or Occupy have in mind."

Today, we're all political Whigs to some degree, seeking respectability. The tea party has its Jacksonian element -- but white middle-aged Protestants make an unconvincing mob.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.