I do appreciate the public choice ramifications of democracy, but I still don't totally understand why things like this happen mere months after a president takes office, during a crisis that few believe will still be with us during the run-up to the 2010 election:
[Probable U.S. Trade Representative] Kirk [...] is viewed by many as a pragmatist who in the past has supported the notion of free trade.
Yet the administration, analysts say, is also up against an American public that is increasingly blaming the open U.S. trade policies of the past as part of the toxic mix at the root of the nation's economic problems. Kirk suggested as much yesterday.
"It is true that cheaper foreign products helped squeezed American families stretch their dollars, and the sale of our goods and services abroad support American families," he said. "But it is also true that the overarching benefits of trade are difficult to appreciate when a plant closes in a small community because of increased foreign competition."
Take out the words "families" and "community," and that looks like it could have come straight out of a public choice textbook arguing why inefficient interest group politics are inevitable in a democracy.
Also, I'd be interested to know, before the dawn of the eternal election campaign, were presidential administrations less likely to engage in this sort of blatant populism early on in their terms? I suspect the answer was no, which sort of invalidates the premise of the question – i.e., the eternal election isn't really a modern invention.