If the left does not make an effort to organize populist anger then the right will grab it by default

The Blue Voice ponders Jerry Brown, radical politics on both sides of the spectrum, civil liberties, and more in a thoughtful post.

They quote from an interview Jerry Brown did with The Progressive in 1995. Brown makes a crucial point, that militia anger is based on real grievances. The Blue Voice thinks Brown misses the dangerous far-right implications of militias (substitute “teabaggers” for “militias” and you’re in 2009, not 1995) but I think they miss that the militia anger and rage is based authentic, grassroots issues.

Q: Do you fear the far-right agenda?

Brown: I don’t know about the far-right agenda. It’s the survival agenda of the incumbents that I’m most concerned about. The militias are going in there and calling attention to the dangerous power-grab of the state. What do you have? You have the ACLU and the NRA, two groups that are not viewed by the establishment very seriously. So The New York Times did a piece comparing the militias to the Black Panthers, not ever drawing the conclusion that they both were talking about excess oppressive practices by the government. They drew the conclusion that, well, the Panthers were wacky, and now the militias are wacky. The Panthers committed crimes, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t speaking from an authentic community and speaking heroically in many, many instances. And all these militia people are marching around because they think the state has been taken over. If you really look at it, the United States has certainly been submerged in a transnational system where one-person-one-vote or the checks-and-balances as envisioned by the founders in the Federalist Papers barely exist.

Here’s one place where I wonder if Brown was taking the problem of far-right extremist politics seriously enough. But in the context, he was pointing to the civil-liberties concerns that concerned him and citing the diversity of criticisms in the same way that Glenn Greenwald often does. I would prefer to see these kinds of analyses be more specific about the distinctive and limited nature of far-right arguments that momentarily overlap with civil-liberties concerns.

I’m a whole lot more concerned about liberals and progressives standing mute as Obama’s policies consistently favor the banking elite to the detriment of the rest of us than about whether some teabaggers are racist. The left needs to make a concerted effort to listen to the issues teabaggers are talking about (rather than insult them and think they’re clever for doing so) then present a coherent and genuine plan to move them away from the right. Otherwise they will stay on the right. And the left will continue to dwindle in power and influence.

Someone, probably fairly soon, will harness all that growing populist anger. Currently, liberals especially are siding with and defending Obama while populist rage at the banksters grows. This is shortsighted and delusional. If we on the left want to win, we need to harness that growing anger and make it ours. And to find common ground with those on the right who we agree with on specific issues.

Palin, resentments, and populism

peasants with pitchforks

Frank Rich. NY Times

Culture is politics. Palin is at the red-hot center of age-old American resentments that have boiled up both from the ascent of our first black president and from the intractability of the Great Recession for those Americans who haven’t benefited from bailouts. As Palin thrives on the ire of the left, so she does from the disdain of Republican leaders who, with a condescension rivaling the sexism they decry in liberals, belittle her as a lightweight or instruct her to eat think-tank spinach.

The only person who can derail Palin is Palin herself. Should she not self-destruct, she will doom G.O.P. hopes of a 2012 comeback. But the rest of the country cannot rest easy. The rage out there is larger than Palin and defies partisan labeling. Her ever-present booster Continetti, writing in The Weekly Standard, suggested that she recast the century-old populist outrage of William Jennings Bryan by adopting the message “You shall not crucify mankind upon the cross of Goldman Sachs.” If Obama can’t tamp down that rage across the political map, Palin will at the very least pave the way for a demagogue with less baggage to pick up her torch.

The resentments and populism are quite real and the rage grows more every day. The message can’t be tamped down nor should it be. But Palin hasn’t got the chops to lead a populist movement and even Republican insiders know that.

But sooner or later, someone will lead that populist movement. Its roots and grievances are real, and they cut across all traditional (or should I say “archaic”) party boundaries.

But such leaders need not and probably won’t be demagogues. That’s just the elitist paranoia of the NY Times talking. They don’t want a populist uprising. Such things scare them. Not does Obama have the ability to tamp down the rage. Because first he needs to acknowledge that such rage exists and then do the logical thing, which would be to break up the banks (like Teddy Roosevelt did with the Standard Oil.) That would diffuse the rage. But so far Obama, while he’s been quite good on some issues, has done nothing to break the power of the big banks. Quite the contrary, he’s stacked his administration with insiders from them.

The populist revolt is already having an effect. Some members of Congress are moving to audit the fed and saying they want to break up the banks. The impetus for that is coming from the people, from that populist rage, not from the government. So let’s keep those populist fires stoked. We are making progress.

Palin is a transitional figure. But populism cuts across traditional boundaries. So I say, let’s all listen to what each other is saying about the economy, the banks, the looting by the few of the many, and forget about left vs. right. We can revisit that later. Imagine what we could do if we were truly united.

Former Masters of the Universe want to become Street Fighting Men

StreetFightingMan-Stones

Wall Streeters can get special lessons in “How To Kill” at an upcoming Vegas seminar.

I guess they’re feeling like targets lately, what with the rising tide of populism and anger against them. And to think they used to be Masters of the Universe. In a forgotten era long ago, they once were actually admired and respected. Yes, I know that’s hard to believe.

Well, as my Krav Maga (the martial art of the Israeli military) instructor once said, all the martial arts in the world don’t help if they shoot you from 20 feet away or hit you from behind with a baseball bat. Besides, street confrontations happen so fast you often have no time to plan or react. Investment bankers aren’t used to being punched in the face, street fighters are. Guess which one will hit harder and faster.

Strange times indeed, when investment bankers are taking seminars to learn how to counter life-threatening attacks.

The direction of working-class populism

NwswkPopulism

John Russo of the Center for Working-Class Studies details how populism increasingly is cutting across class and political boundaries. But the left hasn’t realized that yet and liberals too often side with corporatists while failing to realize that the Glenn Becks of the world have followings because they are tapping into quite real populist anger.

Some liberal commentators can’t seem to figure out whether to dismiss [teabaggers] as privileged elites (or would-be elites) fighting to protect their own tax breaks or as working-class dupes who don’t understand their economic interests.

Perhaps a better approach would be to ask them what they think and treat their concerns as genuine. Because to do otherwise is to cede them to the right without a fight. A real good place to start might be for liberal blogs to stop assuming they’re all fascists or illiterate rednecks. Because they aren’t. Not hardly.

So who are the working-class populists?

Class confusion is nothing new in America, but given the current state of affairs, we need to keep in mind a few key points about working-class populism.

One, the working class is diverse culturally, politically, and geographically. That means that the “working-class position” is always complex and contested.

Second, the recession has added large numbers to the working class, as people who once thought of themselves as comfortably middle-class struggle to recover from the loss of jobs, homes, and retirement accounts. Consequently, any analysis that views the working class as dupes or no longer relevant economically or electorally may be short-sighted. Today’s working class is probably both larger and better educated than at any point in American history.

Third, as unemployment grows, working-class populists may push even conservatives to view government spending more positively. We’ve seen this recently with conservative politicians in Texas who initially refused to accept stimulus funds but are fighting to get their share of public support. Even conservatives know that hungry citizens can be dangerous.

Clearly, working-class populism is not a monolithic right-wing phenomenon. It could just as easily go to the left. We on the left should encourage that to happen.

Corporate piracy decried by Populist Party presidential candidate, 1892

James Baird Weaver. Populist presidential candidate, 1892

In 1892, the Populists’ People’s Party ran James Baird Weaver as their Presidential candidate. That same year, Weaver published “A Call to Action,” which offered a cogent indictment of the rise of the Corporate State in place of the recently dismantled Slave State in America.

That’s a crucial point. Slavery, and the economic system that went with, had been destroyed. Something had to takes its place. (Karl Marx said the US Civil War was due to two competing economic systems that could no longer peacefully co-exist, which is certainly a major reason why it happened.)

Chapter VI, entitled “Evolution In Crime, or Improved Methods of Piracy”… spells out the un-democratic origins and nature of corporations in America

Here’s one excerpt, (from Democracy School, who has PDFs of the book)

“Our government has chartered thousands of corporations, turned them loose upon us and now permits them to commit from year to year… outrages upon our people. These charters are neither more nor less than letters of marque, authorizing those who hold them to prey upon the commerce of the country, and they are the forerunners of something still more serious if they be not speedily recalled and the evils they entail quickly remedied…The object had inview by the incorporators, in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred, is to shirk personal responsibility in case of loss…These enterprises are made up of expectation and apprehension. If expectations are realized, corporators flourish; if apprehensions are verified, the misfortune is unloaded upon the people. Could anything be more monstrous?”

Corporatism, as enshrined in the 14th Amendment with the spurious concept of “personhood” was something the populists rightfully fought against tooth and nail. They saw what was coming.