Conventional wisdom on the left has it that President Obama let slip the populist mantle by, first, supporting TARP and then, after taking office, choosing to side with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner by taking a more lenient approach toward Wall Street and the too-big-to-fail banking industry.

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If he’d been tougher with the banks, maybe even broken them up; if he’d insisted on financial reform with real teeth; if he hadn’t been “in Wall Street’s back pocket” (a point on which the left and right were in basic agreement); if he actually delivered on his campaign promise to change the way Washington works — then maybe Obama could have prevented the Tea Party from stealing the populist thunder that was rightfully his.

Counterfactuals aside, we’re now getting at least a glimpse of what the elite media’s reaction to such policies would have been like.

Since its official launch in Richmond, the Obama reelection campaign has included a tepid, almost genteel, critique of the private-equity industry as part of its narrative. Obama’s argument, in essence, is that the art of the leveraged buyout might not be the most apposite of life experiences to carry into the Oval Office. Predictably, the blowhards freaked out: Obama is against free enterprise! He hates capitalism!

Newark Mayor Cory Booker famously came down with a tummyache.

But even the New York Times, supposedly in the tank for Obama, is feeling queasy this morning. Nicholas Confessore warns that the president’s anti-Bain rhetoric “holds pitfalls.” On the paper’s inside pages, Julie Creswell, ever so evenhandedly, informs us that “The business of private equity firms is buying and selling companies, all done with the goal of earning big returns for themselves and their investors. Sometimes that means jobs are created; sometimes it means jobs are lost.”

Before this post gets too far afield, I’ll wrap it up this way: I think the fact that the New York Times and Cory Booker are getting the vapors is a good indication of how a more aggressively populist Obama administration would have fared over the last three years.