Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Embracing Populism

David Sirota at These Times writes:

It is a blissful yet bewildering feeling. You fight so long, endure so much establishment belittlement, and suddenly you win. That’s what happened on Nov. 7: We the populists won.

After our fully warranted victory laps and back patting, we must review Nov. 7’s lessons. If Democrats want to hold a governing majority, they must see the election for what it was: a mandate for economic populism and a battle cry against Big Money’s war on middle-class Americans.

Candidates all over the country talked about how corporate lobbyists have manipulated our trade policy to crush workers, our energy policy to harm consumers and our health care policy to hurt families. Polls show populism (a.k.a., challenging corporate economic power) is the “center” position for the voting public, even though it may not be the “center” position in a K-Street-owned Washington, D.C.

Since the election, Washington’s elite have tried to deny progressives credit and to downplay a mandate that threatens their agenda. These revisionists say the election was about Democrats pretending to be Republicans, billing people like Virginia Senator-elect Jim Webb as a “conservative.” Yet here is what this “conservative” wrote in a Nov. 15 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Class Struggle”:

The most important—and unfortunately the least debated—issue in politics today is our society’s steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America’s top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. … The top 1 percent now takes in an astounding 16 percent of national income, up from 8 percent in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

If that is the new “conservative,” progressives won an even bigger victory than we thought.

This is a difficult time for Beltway lobbyists and corporate front-groups like the Democratic Leadership Council. It hurts them to see how populism was the Democrats’ ticket. But the elite are not contrite, rather they babble—”Vital dynamic center! Vital dynamic center!” We can understand their outbursts—it hurts to be rejected—but they are just going to have to deal. As winning candidates from Virginia to Kansas to Montana proved, the strategy of repeating lobbyist-written talking points to win red states belongs in the historical scrap heap. It’s the Era of Populism now.

Let's hope so. It would be such a treat to hear people talking about and trying to serve "the public good" rather than just lining their pockets.


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