On Populism, The Tea Party, and Politics

Sunday, September 5, 2010 \PM\.\Sun\.

The American political scene since its inception has constantly been riddled with problems. The question of what the present-day problems are cyclically arises in political discourse. In the past two years in particular, it has become an almost universal observation that the political discourse is bitterly partisan in ways that we have never seen as a country.

Those in the punditry business have presented a number of hypotheses, some good, some bad, as to how or why all that we are witnessing is taking place. The content of such speculation is hardly unexpected: President Obama has made a number of strategic errors; the Republicans are just sheer obstructionists with no ideas or solutions to anything; partisanship in Washington is just too great on both sides of the aisle due to the Democratic supermajority; the overflow of ideological partisanship to 24-hour chattering cable-news stations is making the nation more partisan because each side chooses their news source, their associations, etc., in alignment with their own views, reinforcing their own habits of thoughts and therefore we collectively fail to challenge to substantively confront counterviews; disagreement over the Senate filibuster has caused a ruckus because it has either halted or changed the political dynamics of Democratic policy initiatives due to delay— is this a mechanism of checks-and-balances or an unreasonable threshold, in present time,  requiring a supermajority for any important legislation?

There are many other explanations commonly put forth, but what is perhaps the most underlying problem of all, the truest explanation and biggest culprit of all, indeed, the biggest threat to democracy, goes unnoticed: the apathy, the ignorance, and the growing incoherence of the American public. This may be called, for the lack of better terms, the “populist problem.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Populism: A Response to Elitist Political Masochism

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 \AM\.\Wed\.

1500 words. I promise.

Now that my obnoxious and pretentious title has grabbed your attention…

On my facebook profile, I give a reason why I am a populist, perhaps the main objective reason. It reads:

“In times such as these, the instincts of the people are based in healthy life drives and survival instincts, while those of the intellectuals are rooted in increasingly irrational spiritual disorders.”

So before I get to why I am a populist, I want to make clear up front that I am not an unconditional populist. That is why I say, “in times such as these.” By that I mean, among other things, that there are times during which I would not be a populist. I don’t hold the view that social elites are always and everywhere wrong – with the American founders, I would much like to see a “natural aristocracy” of talent (which the Church was too, by the way in the Middle Ages – where do you think all of the second and third sons of the nobility or the bright peasants who couldn’t rise by other means went?).

Read the rest here.

This might be a good discussion to have here. Comments are open.


Palin, Steele, & Populism

Friday, March 13, 2009 \AM\.\Fri\.

Daniel Larison on why conservatives have been critical of Michael Steele, but defended Sarah Palin:

Steele does not have the benefit of a verbose, mistake-prone counterpart to distract us [like Palin did with Biden], but even if he did the reaction to Steele would have been nothing like the response to Palin. In other words, Steele’s blunders on substance are treated as badly damaging and activists insist that they require immediate correction, while Palin’s blunders were spun as imaginatively and desperately as any politician’s answers have ever been spun. This is a bigger problem than pushing unprepared leaders into the spotlight–it is a clear preference for one kind of style, namely the combative pseudo-populist act, over whatever style Steele has at the expense of any consideration of the merits of what these leaders say. The takeaway is that Steele is being ripped apart for making statements that are not terribly different from Palin’s campaign statements on the very same issues, and somehow she is still considered a rising star by the very activists who are ripping Steele.

Read the rest of this entry »


Levin on the Palin Phenomenon

Thursday, February 5, 2009 \PM\.\Thu\.

As the election becomes more a matter of history than immediate emotion, it is a good time for sober analysis of what went on in the 2008 election. Yuval Levin has a very good analysis in Commentary Magazine of the phenomenon that was Sarah Palin’s candidacy. In framing the controversy he makes an interesting distinction:

In American politics, the distinction between populism and elitism is further subdivided into cultural and economic populism and elitism. And for at least the last forty years, the two parties have broken down distinctly along this double axis. The Republican party has been the party of cultural populism and economic elitism, and the Democrats have been the party of cultural elitism and economic populism. Republicans tend to identify with the traditional values, unabashedly patriotic, anti-cosmopolitan, non-nuanced Joe Sixpack, even as they pursue an economic policy that aims at elite investor-driven growth. Democrats identify with the mistreated, underpaid, overworked, crushed-by-the-corporation “people against the powerful,” but tend to look down on those people’s religion, education, and way of life. Republicans tend to believe the dynamism of the market is for the best but that cultural change can be dangerously disruptive; Democrats tend to believe dynamic social change stretches the boundaries of inclusion for the better but that economic dynamism is often ruinous and unjust.

Both economic and cultural populism are politically potent, but in America, unlike in Europe, cultural populism has always been much more powerful. Americans do not resent the success of others, but they do resent arrogance, and especially intellectual arrogance.

Addressing how Palin’s candidacy turned this cultural fact into a firestorm, he says:

Read the rest of this entry »