Obama first tried to emulate Truman by running against a Republican (majority holding one house of) Congress. More recently, he tried imitating Teddy Roosevelt in his last, sad, radical incarnation, going to Osawatomie, Kansas and delivering a divisive, populist, class warfare-themed speech harkening back to to turn of the last century Progressivism.
When Paul A. Rahe looks at Obama, though, he isn’t reminded of Harry Truman or Teddy Roosevelt so much as of John V. Lindsay, a similar glamor boy wimp with a similarly polished Ivy League style, who similarly chose to represent a coalition of the establishment elite and minority canaille in waging class warfare against the middle and the working class.
[I]t was Lindsay who had spent the city into the ground. In 1967, the city budget was $4.6 billion; in 1971, it was $7.8 billion. By 1974, the year Beame took over, it was $10 billion. Lindsay introduced the cityâ€™s first income tax and commuter tax, but the revenues he raised were never enough. By 1974, the annual budget deficit had climbed to $1.5 billion. Fred Siegel got it right when he described Lindsay as the worst Mayor New York had in the twentieth century and went on to remark that he â€œwasn’t incompetent or foolish or corrupt, but he was actively destructive.”
Lindsayâ€™s natural constituency was the socially liberal WASP elite and those within the Jewish community who had joined them at the top of the social pyramid or aspired to do so. To win election and re-election as Mayor, he had to hold onto that constituency, split the Democratic Party, and win over one of the more substantial elements composing it. This he did by driving a wedge between working-class and lower middle class whites, on the one hand, and African-Americans and Puerto Ricans, on the other â€“ and he managed to attract support from the latter by massively expanding the welfare rolls and increasing dramatically the patronage that found its way into their hands. To secure his re-election, Lindsay was prepared to bring the city to its knees.
And exactly like John Lindsay, Barack Obama is leaving spectacular and unprecedented economic ruin in his wake and will be remembered as the most despised holder of the same office in a century.