Barack Obama gave a solid speech in Ohio today, attacking Republican policies and obstructionism, and outlining several new economic initiatives. Reporters are giddy over his new tone of "populism," which is... what, exactly?

The New York Times describes Obama's highly anticipated appearance in Cleveland today, where he delivered a "sharply populist speech that sought to appeal to the middle class." He attacked Republicans for wanting to preserve the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% of Americans and for blocking a small business bill in Congress. Then more "populism," according to the Times: "To emphasize his populist tones, and defend government programs, the president spoke of how his mother and grandparents had struggled to make ends meet."

There's something disconcerting about the giddy usage of "populism" in this context. It gives the impression that Barack Obama is doing something very naughty here, by making the well respected and not particularly controversial point that people earning hundreds of thousands of dollars can survive a four-percentage-point marginal tax increase at the upper bounds of their incomes as we try to both restart the economy and keep unsustainable medium- and long-term deficits in check. And how is it "populist" to talk about your own family's struggles with cash in the past? It's just a good piece of tried-and-true campaign rhetoric.

This may be nitpicky, but there's a strange, almost condescending problem here when a message like "We need to make sure the middle class doesn't disappear" is labeled as "populist" or "fiery," instead of, say, "responsible" or "confident."

[Image via AP]