Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Populism Doesn't Mean Stupid

This Weekly Standard piece is s wrong, nothing can make it right.
If Sarah Palin visits Nashville on her book tour, she really ought to stop by the Hermitage. Andrew Jackson's plantation is a lot more than a beautifully restored example of Greek Revival architecture and design. It's also a monument to the seventh president's democratic legacy--of rule by the people, of competitive commercial markets, of entrepreneurial individuals lighting out to the territories. It's a legacy to which Palin is heiress. And one she ought to embrace.

"Entrepreneurial individuals"? What kind of crap is that?

Even worse than the comparison to Jackson - a tough, weather-beaten soldier who actually had military victories under his belt, unlike any of the current crop of GOP war-mongers - is invoking the name of William Jennings Bryan. Making his mark at the 1896 Democratic National Convention, Bryan was the prototypical prairie populist. He was, however, no dummy. While he also ended his life in the 1920's defending Biblical literalism in an overheated Tennessee courtroom, the years in between were hardly arid. Three times Democratic nominee for President, he was Woodrow Wilson's first Secretary of State. He left office because he opposed Wilson's movements toward war with Germany and Austria; in other words, he had principles for which he was willing to take a stand.

More broadly, however, Palin is less a "populist" than she is a figurehead for the right-wing. She seems to have little regard for any individual other than herself, any group other than her family, and any desire for public service rather than self-aggrandizement while in office. Also, "populism" has been far too long equated with a kind of anti-intellectual, almost mob-like mystique that we should be reminded that this is precisely part of the problem populism existed to counter. Unlike its fraternal twin progressivism, populism developed as a rural reform movement against various vested interests. The Grange, Prohibition, women's suffrage, anti-trust - these were all populist issues and program before they were adopted by Progressives. Furthermore, much of the stereotyping of populists as ignorant yahoos was done by urban progressives who had an almost visceral assumption that anyone not from a city was, by definition ignorant.

Michael Moore is a populist. Paul Wellstone was a populist. For all his megalomaniacal tendencies, Huey Long of Louisiana had a pretty progressive program, and frightened Franklin Roosevelt to death.

I consider myself a populist (small "d") democrat.

Sarah Palin is no more a populist than I am a Maoist.

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