Issues analysis
The tribune of the people falls off his horse
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
September 21, 2009

Last November, the American people elected a man president who has never had management or executive experience, and who has only had two years experience in the Senate and a background of associations with persons of far-left ideology and those of shady character. Why did the people make this choice?

Some say that Barack Obama has a messianic quality. However, columnist Charles Krauthammer (on Sept. 7) came up with another title that I think fits him better. He said that Obama fancies himself the "Tribune of the People." It is a Roman title that reminds me that Obama used balsa wood Roman columns at Grant Park, on election night. He does not want to be the messiah. He wants to be Augustus Caesar.

Roman politics

In Roman politics, the Senate was composed of aristocrats who generally protected the interests of the patrician class — i.e., the upper class. The Council of the Plebeians represented the lower class of Roman citizens. This Council was volatile and subject to popular passions and the influence of rabble rousers. It hosted the parties and factions that were the left-wing of the Roman political world. Our modern Democratic Party occasionally resembles The Roman Council of the Plebeians.

The "Tribune," or "Tribune of the People," had the authority to convene a Council of the Plebeians, along with a variety of other governmental powers. The Republic had "checks and balances," not unlike those built into the U. S. Constitution. The tribunes were a check on Senatorial power and prevented the Roman Republic from becoming an oligarchy.

In theory, the tribune of the people was the manifestation of the people or an embodiment of the public will. Rousseau wrote about how a leader or a party can manifest the "general will," and the progressive movement has brought that idea forward through time. That is why a liberal leader can fancy himself as the tribune of the people.

Emperors Tiberius, Titus, Trajan, and Marcus Aurelius rose to be emperor partly through their popularity from being Tribunes of the People. Someone who was not in the imperial family or a leading Senator could rise to the imperial throne through military victories or through politics and popularity with the masses. The military Caesars rode into Rome as "men on horseback." The political Caesars — Obama style — were often tribunes and made rousing speeches and bankrupted the treasury to give "bread and circuses" to the rabble.

Unfortunately, the mob was fickle, and if a tribune fell off his horse in front of everyone or was in some other way publically humiliated, it might be politically fatal. Julius Caesar worried that if he had an epileptic fit in front of the crowds, it would be the end of his career.

Once a tribune of the people lost his popularity and the spell was broken, it would be far more difficult to recover his popularity than during his original rise to power.

The fall of Obama as a tribune of the people

Since a tribune of the people lives and dies on the fickle popularity of the common people, if he sees a parade he must jump in front of it and lead it. If he sees a popular protest in the streets, he must be the loudest voice in the crowd. If he is dismissive of a popular grassroots political movement, he can never again be seen as a manifestation of the popular will. Much has been made of Obama's fall in the polls. Far more important is the fact that he has resisted the popular will. We have a real grassroots revolution, and Obama is not listening to the people, but is fighting against them. This is how he fell off his horse.

Obama is fighting for a health bill that he has not read, but that grassroots leaders have read. The bill is supposedly the work of Congress. Obama is the tribune of a liberal Congress, not the tribune of the people.

The MacArthur mistake

General Douglas MacArthur had two possible means of becoming president. One was to appear as a "man on horseback" and perform a military coup. Historian Niall Ferguson claims in his book Colossus that MacArthur was planning to perform a coup d'état. According to Ferguson, President Truman got wind of it and talked MacArthur's subordinate generals out of it. Whether this story is true or not, MacArthur also tried to become president the political way — by becoming a tribune of the people.

There were occasions when literally millions of people met MacArthur as he stepped off his plane. The crowd swooned as he spoke. It was not unlike Obama-hysteria in Iowa. However, Obama's peak crowds were minuscule in comparison of MacArthur's millions. MacArthur's 1951 ticker tape parade in Manhattan was comparable to the one given Lindbergh in 1927.

After MacArthur's "old soldiers never die" speech to Congress, one senator ran around the room, shouting, "I have just heard the voice of God!" This puts me in mind of Oprah Winfrey's hyperventilation about Obama being a New Age messiah. When MacArthur threw his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination, he was a cinch to win. Yet, after the delegate count, he came in third after Eisenhower and Taft. What went wrong? How did MacArthur, the tribune of the people, fall off his white horse?

He made the mistake of over-exposure. He made the same windy speech too many times and in too many places. The people tired of him. His crowds shrank from the millions to the hundreds.

The cowbell syndrome

On Sept. 8, columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote that after each of Obama's speeches for medical reform, his standing in the polls dropped. In spite of this, the Obama camp keeps scheduling more Obama speeches as the miracle cure of all that ails them.

Goldberg ridiculed this as "beating a dead cowbell." In a Saturday Night Live skit, a recording session was ruined by a loud cowbell. The musicians thought to fix it by playing the cowbell louder. Every time they tried it, the cowbell ruined the recording session. The joke was, they could not learn and just get rid of the cowbell.

Obama's team is planning several more health care-cowbell speeches. A TV journalist said prior to Obama's speech before Congress Sept. 10, "Surely this is Obama's last health care speech." It would be his last if his team had common sense. However, they suppose that if they can ring the cowbell louder and ring it a few more times, it will save the day.

After all, Obama's rhetoric is magical, is it not? Just remember the primaries. Well, before he fell off his horse as tribune of the people, his speeches had magic. But that time is past.

Obama's first health care speech was a bad cowbell because, according to Bill O'Reilly, he failed to explain what the program is all about and why we need it. I think it was also a bad cowbell because it failed to address the concerns of the people in the tea parties and town halls.

The cowbell syndrome is one aspect of the MacArthur mistake of over-exposure because MacArthur kept hitting the same tones in his many speeches. This is exactly what Obama is doing.

Obama refuses to believe that his fall in the polls is his fault. He insists that his enemies are to blame, and accuses them of telling lies — which in many cases they are not. Some of his most devastating enemies are telling the truth. The person who practices blame-shifting is a person who repeats his mistakes — like ringing bad cowbells.

The first Jimmy Carter mistake

Jimmy Carter tried to do everything at once and failed in almost all his agendas. His first priority should have been the economy, which had very high inflation at that time and very high unemployment. Partly due to his preoccupation with other issues, he failed badly with the economy. His second priority should have been national defense. He hollowed out the military, and denied the communist threat. He was humiliated when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He was humiliated again when the Iranians took American hostages, and he was weak and wavering in his response, as a preoccupied president is bound to be.

In contrast, Ronald Reagan had an excellent set of priorities. His first priority was the economy. After restoring a strong economy, he rebuilt the military, which had been hollowed out by Carter, and he stood strong against the Soviets — who crumbled in the face of overwhelming American military superiority and a tough American president.

Obama took over some of the banks and General Motors. Without pausing for breath, he railroaded the cap and trade bill and the stimulus bill through the Congress. It was literally impossible for legislators to read the massive stimulus bill before the hasty vote. It turns out the bill was loaded with pork for Democrats. No wonder Obama and the Democratic leaders did not want anyone to read the bill before they voted.

Obama tried to do the same thing with health care — railroad a massive bill through Congress so quickly that no one had a chance to read it. At this point, the "blue dog Democrats" (moderate Democrats in Congress) rebelled because of the effect it will have on the deficit and because they wanted to read the bill. Also, they resented the idea of being a rubber stamp for the president, instead of a real legislature.

Demons in the plumbing

A president who tries to do everything at once has to farm a lot of his work out, so Obama farmed out the writing of the stimulus bill to the "Apollo Alliance." It is not clear if using Apollo was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's idea or President Obama's idea. The Tides Foundation (or The Tides Center) is the parent organization of Apollo. Tides is an ultra-liberal and ultra-rich foundation in San Francisco, which is Pelosi's home town. Tides is like an octopus, with many leftist front groups around the country. President Obama was once the chief trainer of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). ACORN is part of the Apollo Alliance, which reports to Tides. (Recall that Obama began his career as a "community organizer," a function that is one of ACORN's specialties) That is why it might have been his idea to use Apollo.

Van Jones, a confessed communist, was Obama's former green Czar, but is now publically shamed. He and Wade Rathke co-founded the Apollo Alliance under Tides supervision and funding. Rathke also founded ACORN. Jones' vision was to unite labor (SEIU, Service Employees International Union), ACORN (election tampering and local lobbying), and Greenpeace (radical environmentalism) together in one organization (The Apollo Alliance). The Greek god Apollo had male lovers, so the choice of the of the name Apollo might signify a gay agenda in the Tides organization.

If Glenn Beck's sources are correct, Apollo wrote the stimulus bill. I happen to know that Tides, which is the parent of Apollo, is interested in radical health reform. So it would not be surprising if their subsidiary, the Apollo Alliance, wrote the 100+ page health care bill.

Most of these facts I cite are from Glenn Beck — but I knew about Tides at least two years before Glenn Beck did. Therefore, when he started talking about Tides, I started believing his information about The Apollo Alliance, SEIU, and ACORN.

During a recent election cycle, I fought a political front group that was a creation of a subsidiary of Tides. The front group smeared a political candidate I was advising and used a variety of hooligan tactics against her. As I wrote for RenewAmerica, the two leaders of the front group publically posed as the leaders of a spontaneously arising community grassroots political organization. I added that they were really sock puppets of Tides. The point man of the front group was on the board of Tides. He threatened to sue RenewAmerica. I offered to show him my sources. He folded. No court of law would believe that a board member of Tides, in San Francisco, was simply a concerned citizen in Ohio who spontaneously got involved in a community grassroots organization.

His threat of a lawsuit was a bullying tactic intended to silence me and RenewAmerica. These people are now very close to the president. When Obama wants to bully someone, he can now do it through Apollo or another Tides front group. There will be no way of tracing the bulling back to the president

Glenn Beck said that three "detectives" are following him and watching him. Don't be surprised if a Tides front group hired the "detectives." The time of persecution by political bully boys is back once more.

Demons slink into the plumbing when a president tries to do too much too soon. Obama has demons in the plumbing, namely the Tides Foundation, the Apollo Alliance, and ACORN.

The second Jimmy Carter mistake

A president who cannot delegate is doomed to failure. Jimmy Carter was a control freak and had his fingerprints on everything. He failed because he could not work with Congress, in spite of having a large Democratic majority that was his own party. Many congressmen and senators resented Carter's controlling ways. The fastest way to destroy a relationship is to try to control it, a lesson that Carter never learned.

Eventually, the leaders of Congress decided to run the country themselves and to regard Carter as irrelevant.

Most people regard Obama as a hands-off president, because has given so many bills to Congress to develop. But this is an illusion. The bills really went to the Apollo Alliance and probably also to the parent company, the Tides Foundation, as well. Obama's insistence that Congress pass these gigantic bills quickly or vote by a date set by him is a controlling gambit. "Here is a thousand page bill. The vote is tomorrow. Hurry up." This reduces the Congress to a rubber stamp. It is no wonder that many Democrats in the House and Senate have rebelled.

The inner circle control freak

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is a control freak. In the inner circles of the Executive Branch of the government, we have Carter redux. Obama and Emmanuel have their fingerprints on everything. Like a high school clique, they live in a closed world of their own making, in which they cannot learn, cannot grow, and are reined in by politically correct codes of their own making. The same illusions keep deceiving them. Expect them to keep repeating the same mistakes. Cowbells, anyone?

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison

RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.


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