Barack Obama has been without an overarching, persuasive narrative since Inauguration Day but now, thanks to Mitt Romney's pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate, he's finally got one: the defender of the middle class and the great Democratic progressive tradition from FDR to LBJ.
The right-wing, big-money forces, more emboldened than ever in this post-Citizens United era and personified by the Koch Brothers, are determined to seize the moment and dismantle middle-class entitlements rooted in the New Deal and the 1960s. That dismantling is a centerpiece of Paul Ryan's red-meat budget proposal and why Paul's their boy, as Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal editorial writers made abundantly clear a few days ago. It is not hard to imagine some friendly "suggestions" by Romney's richest, right-wing donors to the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee that it would be a very good idea indeed if Mitt put Paul on the ticket.
So, Romney has thrown down the gauntlet, confounding Inside-the-Beltway wisdom that he was too cautious to pick the controversial Ryan. And now, the often too-cautious Barack Obama has an opening to re-brand himself as the bold champion of the Democratic Party's great progressive tradition.
In fact, Obama adopted that populist persona when he gave a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire early in his first campaign for president more than four years ago. Then he told his audience that "we cannot settle for a second Gilded Age in America." He saw a close parallel between the "robber barons, railroad tycoons and oil magnates" of the first Gilded Age, and today's powerful financial interests that dominate "a new economy where more wealth is in danger of falling into fewer hands; where the average CEO now earns more in one day than an average worker earns in an entire year." We haven't heard much of that kind of truth-telling populist rhetoric in the last four years, but that's about to change.
By picking Ryan as his running mate, Romney has given Obama a big opportunity to identify with such Democratic presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson who stood up for ordinary Americans in the face of unrelenting, often vicious opposition from moneyed interests. That choice, being played out again in sharp relief in 2012, is as old as the Republic. Most of the time, when the lines are clearly drawn, the American people make the right choice. Running as a full-throated progressive is Barack Obama's ticket to a second term.