Obama Speech: Convention Address Makes Economic Populism Central Thrust of Election 2008

David Sirota

If his convention speech tonight is any indication, Barack Obama has (finally) signaled that progressive economic populism is going to be the central thrust of Democrats campaign in the stretch run of the 2008 election.The speech is probably the most populist national speech Obama has given.Here are the key snippets:"We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job - an economy that honors the dignity of work…Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it…It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road…I will make certain those [health care] companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most…Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses…"This is strong stuff - the kind of thing I was talking about when I wrote a newspaper column back in June entitled "Countering Race With Class." That column said the only way for Obama to counter the GOP's cultural populism is with a full-throated economic populist message.For a while now, I have wondered why it has taken him this long to get back to this same economic language that he used in the Democratic primary. It probably is a mix of factors: The Wall Streeters whispering in his ear, Democrats' typical (self-defeating) move to the right in general elections, and the virulent free-market fundamentalism that the New York Times says he embraced at the University of Chicago.But now, he has to win an election - and he knows that Democrats have won red-states like Ohio not by pretending to be Royalist Republicans, but by being economic populists and tapping into the uprising that I described in my new book (in fact, as Obama himself said tonight, "change happens because the American people demand it – because they rise up.That his newfound courage is partially rooted in election opportunism doesn't negate its value. If he continues with this kind of posture, he not only will win the election, but will create a mandate that helps force an Obama administration to fulfill the economic promises it is making. And that more than anything would, indeed, mean real change.

David Sirota is an awardwinning investigative journalist and an In These Times senior editor. He served as speech writer for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign. Follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.
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