The roots of populism stretch back to the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. The man who ultimately brought down the system was a wealthy and ambitious nobleman named Publius Clodius Pulcher, a populist demagogue who refused to play by the rules. The more audacious his behavior, the more the public loved him for it. The ruling classes stood by dazed and helpless as control of the state they had run for centuries slipped from their hands.
President Obama and other "centrists" largely managed to contain his party's populist wing throughout his first term. But the rise of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her allies has emboldened what is now sometimes called the party's "Warren wing," as more and more Democrats sign on to the progressive populist agenda.
To the extent that the Obama budget is intended as a "campaign blueprint" -- to signal to working families that Obama cares about them and to force the Republicans to cast difficult votes -- it is a very small step in the right direction. But it probably will sway a few voters, because it doesn't make enough of a difference. Obama is being branded a populist by the establishment press and irresponsible by Republicans for what is really a very tame program. He should at least earn these adjectives and get the public's attention. As it is, he might as well be hanged for a sheep. He might as well come out for policies that would make a real difference. That would actually be worthy of the terms "populist" and "campaign blueprint."