Voters increasingly are angry at corruption in high places, cronyism, endless war, and a feeble economy made worse by systematized looting from the top. This is populism. However, for now, populism is spread all over the political spectrum. Should it somehow coalesce, with the various factions coming together on issues they agree on, it would be a powerful force.
Populism is the US was started by Midwest farmers who were losing their farms to predatory banks and getting screwed by crop speculators. Once of the first things they did was create co-ops. They sold their crops to the co-ops for a fair price. The co-op controlled enough crops that it could demand better prices. Populism in the 1880’s-1890’s was a serious third political force (which the Democratic Party cheerfully stabbed in the back.)
Joel Kotkin explores the three faces of populism.
Over the coming years, party factions that can form a convincing and broad-based populist agenda will have an advantage. Any party that believes, as some Democratic shills now say, that things are “pretty awesome” misses broad-based public sentiment, which remains very negative about the state of the country and the economy. Growing inequality, reduced opportunity – particularly for the new generation – will remain the defining issue of our time. It is time for the political class, in both parties, to confront this reality.
Do It Like Davos
This is faux populism, in other words not really populist at all. A genuinely populist Adminstration would have jailed the banksters long ago. Obama hasn’t even tried. It’s really more of a “we the tech overlords know what is best for the rest of you” and our thoughts are not requested. Eric Scmidt at Google is a perfect example of this. He is no populist nor a friend to anyone but his own class. Our last genuinely populist president was Teddy Roosevelt, who got many of his ideas from the Populist Party.
Only in the bizarre world of contemporary “progressivism” could the words “Davos Populism” appear together. Yet, as we saw recently at the Davos Conference, the agenda of the gentry Left – epitomized by the 1,700 private jets that brought attendees to the Swiss event – has merged with that of our current “populist in chief,” Barack Obama.
The New Old Left
The hard left is increasingly urban and coastal, dismissive towards those who live in rural areas or the heartland, way too insular, and wed to the past. Forget about harkening back to the glory days of massive labor strikes and serious unrest. That was decades ago. Today, that coalition has mostly crumbled. Labor unions aren’t going to come roaring back. The US working class isn’t going to wake up one morning and decide that fellow Marx had some fine ideas after all. What the left desperately needs is new ideas.
But the new Old Left has a problem with what should be its base: the working class. As Democrats have become more concentrated along the East and West coasts, they have become a biregional, urbancentric party whose cultural and environmental agenda is more in sync with the oligarchs of Davos and Wall Street than middle-class, Main Street businesses.
These are mostly right-wing libertarians who oppose banksters, rule by DC, and too often think gays and minorities are icky.
But unlike the rigidly pro-Wall Street mainstream GOP, the populists also oppose benefits for crony capitalists. Perhaps the most intriguing tax proposals, for example, are those from former Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, who called for a graduated “flat tax” that would reduce the enormous advantage that capital gains now gives the Davos crowd and their minions.
Populism can go left or right. Teddy Roosevelt used it to break up Standard Oil. Hitler arguably was populist too. It can be good or evil. What happens with populism depends on what we do with it.