Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The ever-popular populism


------------------------------LINDA McCUAIG ------------------------

The lesson for today class is on “populism”.

The idea for this lesson was triggered by an unintentionally funny column in today’s Toronto Star, by leftist writer, Linda McCuaig. She is commenting on the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, taking the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in the state of Massachusetts.

McCuaig says:

It's the notion that he's a populist that sticks in my craw.
It's his alleged populism that led to his dramatic upset win last week in Ted Kennedy's old seat.

Right-wingers like Brown hide the elitism of their agenda by presenting themselves as ordinary working types, as truck-driving, gun-toting folk who may have just slaughtered something with their bare hands in the back shed.


Right-wingers can’t be populists? Where does that come from?

Populism is not the prerogative of either the left or the right. It is an expression, articulated by a leader or would-be leader, of the aspirations of the people.

It works like this. The candidate licks his or her finger and sticks it up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing in politics and then says, “If that is the direction the people are marching, then, by golly, I am going to run to the front of the parade, grab the marshal’s baton, and lead them.”

Certainly, during his election campaign I would have pegged Barack Obama as a populist with all his appeals to hope and change and a New Jerusalem for the United States. But that would be OK for McCuaig, because Obama is clearly a leftie, so he owns the turf, according to her.

She says:

After being elected with a mandate for change, Barack Obama has seemed powerless to change much, continuing the giveaways and deference to Wall Street.
No wonder the people are in revolt.

Stung by Brown's victory, Obama moved last week to recapture some populist ground, announcing previously stalled plans to bring in tough new banking regulations.


Interesting, since the very first thing Obama demonstrated when he nailed the office of President is that he is anything but a populist. He is of the powerful elite class (Columbia, Harvard) and associates himself with other powerful elites. His picks for cabinet posts showed that. And, after all, if you are going to count Warren Buffet as one of your important advisers, how populist can you be?

The Pew Research Center just released its findings on the political concerns of the American people. Here is the chart from that report.


Obama has so far struck out on the economic recovery, which is the top priority of Americans. Ditto for jobs, the second most important concern. He has failed on the terrorism front (Fort Hood, Detroit), the third highest category.

He hasn’t done anything on social security and his education initiatives, whatever they might be, are still in the starting gate. The confusing health care bill appears to be damaging Medicare, or at least, is putting it in some doubt.

Deficit reduction ranks ahead of health care and the military ranks ahead of health insurance. Financial regulation is way down the list and, coming in dead last, is global warming.

So, the President is focused on things like global warming, reforming health care, and financial regulation, and appears to be paying no attention to deficit reduction which ranks as the seventh most important thing on a list of 21 concerns. In fact, on deficits, he seems to be going in the opposite direction, which can only make this issue climb farther up the list of importance.

He is marching in the opposite direction to the people and leading his own parade of elites.

Simply attacking big banks is not going to recapture populist sentiment for Obama when financial regulation ranks so low in order of importance.

Anyway, why does McCuaig think populism is such an important agenda?

About Brown, she says:

Meanwhile, beware of truck-driving centerfolds in sheep's clothing. Underneath that buff populist skin may be just another wily wolf working for Wall Street.


Or, one might add, beware of populists who are working for things other than Wall Street.

Here are four pictures of famous populists. The first two were lefties and the last two were right-wingers. Can you name them? Hints - the last one was a Republican and the second last was a Democrat.




The lesson really is to beware of populism period.

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