supporter
Posted by Stone (+1598) 15 years ago
Windows Into Populism's Rise

By David Sirota

A rule of thumb for understanding American politics: The federal government only reacts to popular will when the upper-middle professional class starts making noise. Everyone else's voice falls on deaf ears. This is an unfortunate reality, but it is reality.

Consider the last few decades. Many historians believe anti-war pressure during the Vietnam War only really changed public policy when, in 1969, the draft lottery was created. At that point, a whole swath of upper-middle-class parents was galvanized because it became much harder to use loopholes to shield their kids from combat.

Business misbehavior was rarely a congressional focus when CEOs were cutting blue-collar wages while padding their own salaries. But when Enrons started undermining the retirement savings of the upper middle class, lawmakers raced to pass corporate accountability legislation. Housing affordability received little attention in Washington when only the working poor couldn't pay the rent. But when mortgage defaults recently began roiling the stock market, the issue was quickly deemed a "crisis."

This realpolitik lens, while an interesting historical decoder, is an even more important guide to the present.

Pundits today seem puzzled by the Lou Dobbs-ification of politics -- the sudden political emergence of economic issues such as trade, jobs, wages and even immigration, and the meteoric ascendance of populist red-state politicians such as Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, also a Democrat, demanding immediate change. But on a recent trip to the iconic capital of the upper- middle class professional, it all made perfect sense.

With buzzing twentysomething worker bees and beige low-rise buildings dotting a bucolic setting, the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., looks like a cross between a university and a suburban office park. The comfortably tranquil image is carefully massaged by company icon Bill Gates, who cheerily testified to Congress this month that "anyone here in the United States who has [computer engineering] skills is going to have a super-high-paying jobs." Yet a darker reality emerges when talking to workers.

They pointed me to company documents published by the worker advocacy group WashTech, proving Microsoft salaries for mid-level full-time employees have been stagnating, even as company revenues rise. They fumed over how the company employs thousands of "permatemps" -- full-time employees technically designated "temporary" so the company does not have to pay them as well or provide them benefits.

Showing how the immigration backlash extends beyond odious xenophobia and into legitimate economic worries, they lamented that wages are forced ever lower by Microsoft's use of the H-1B visa program -- a program that forces permatemps to compete with temporary, nonresident workers from other countries who are imported here by companies because they will accept low pay (government data shows tech companies pay H-1B workers $13,000 per year less than American workers in the same jobs). "They say they need H-1B's because they can't find a qualified American," whispered one permatemp in the hall outside his office. "What they really mean is they can't find a cheap American."

Pay grades are only part of the ferment -- it is also anxiety over job security at a time when 1.1 million American information-sector jobs have been eliminated in the past five years. While Gates told Congress that the demand for highly skilled computer workers "is going to guarantee them all jobs," one 10-year Microsoft "permatemp" making $25-per-hour with no benefits told me everyone knows better.

"You can knock yourself out here and do your best and fix a thousand bugs," he said. "But at the end of that, they can -- and often do -- just say goodbye. And everyone here knows that."

Another permatemp said that while he helped build the new Vista operating system, he found not one Microsoft division that doesn't fear showing up and having their keycards not work because all their jobs were sent to India. That concern is justified: A Microsoft slide presentation, also uncovered by WashTech, shows the company encourages foreign outsourcing in most major decisions.

WashTech has tried to convert workers' anger into union drives. But those grinning, business-casual Microsoft executives have learned a thing or two about how to bust unions. One example: When a handful of Microsoft workers developing fledgling tax software took an initial step to unionize, the entire project was terminated by management.

As both the Microsoft story and broader government data show, wage cuts, employment schemes, outsourcing and union-busting are not isolated to blue-collar or entry-level industries: they have become commonplace throughout the economy, an enraging part of the upper middle-class's daily life, and thus the likely reason why an increasing number of politicians are finally challenging Wall Street orthodoxies on wages, trade and outsourcing. That we must always wait for this kind of action until crises hit this specific socioeconomic class is certainly a cause for outrage. That we can now finally expect real change is nonetheless a cause for hope.
Top
supporter
Posted by Rick Kuchynka (+4453) 15 years ago
Nothing loses me faster than having someone talk about "populism" as if it's a positive thing.

Populism is basically just a covert (and unprincipled) form of socialism.
Top
supporter
Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+18254) 15 years ago
Nothing loses me faster than having someone talk about "populism" as if it's a positive thing.

Is this a surprise to anyone?
Top
founder
supporter
Posted by Tucker Bolton (+3857) 15 years ago
OUCH! those negative references really hurt. Thank G-d, it could have been worse. I could have been a republican or democrat.

Socialism refers to a broad array of doctrines or political movements that envisage a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to control by the community.[1] This control may be either direct-exercised through popular collectives such as workers' councils-or indirect-exercised on behalf of the people by the state. As an economic system, socialism is often characterized by state or community ownership of the means of production.

Populism, by its traditional definition, is a political doctrine or philosophy that aims to defend the interests of the common people against an entrenched, self-serving or corrupt elite.
Top
Posted by Dan (+465) 15 years ago
I am reading a book right now by J. Edgar Hoover that has warned me all about you kind of people...
Top
supporter
Posted by Bridgier (+9469) 15 years ago
Speaking of books, and the curiously loose definition of terms that get thrown about:

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'
Top
Posted by Jon Bonine (+160) 15 years ago
Maybe socialism is a subset of populism. There are some similarities between the two movements. But that is just dodging the question, "why would socialism be such a bad thing?"

Bridgier, you can say whatever you want. If we aren't able to understand your meaning from the context of the statement and social construct, then it's just noise(or squiggles on the screen). You can make a word mean what you want, but then it's meaningless to me. Communication is a two way street.
Top
supporter
Posted by Bridgier (+9469) 15 years ago
I have a friend at work for whom the word "liberal" is divorced from any definition beyond that which he gives it: "liberal" is anything he doesn't like.

When it was pointed out that in fact he was a market liberal, he got all red in the face and swore up and down that there wasn't a liberal bone in his body.

So to it is sometimes here, when words such as "socialism" are thrown around and everyone is expected to cower in fear of the terrible word and the horrors it encompasses, which very often bear little resemblance to actual socialist systems in practice.

Populism is not the exlusive hallmark of the right or the left - after all, for every William Jennings Bryant or Paul Wellstone there's a Tom Tancredo.
Top
supporter
Posted by Bob L. (+5096) 15 years ago
Bridgier:

Thanks for spelling it out.
Top
Posted by Jon Bonine (+160) 15 years ago
Bridgier said
So to it is sometimes here, when words such as "socialism" are thrown around and everyone is expected to cower in fear of the terrible word and the horrors it encompasses,

Just a question, can we say the same thing about words like democracy and freedom from a positive sense? Why should we cheer and jump up and down when these 'great' words are used?

I agree with Bridgier that some words become so loaded that they are worthless. I would suggest that there are words that are loaded with a positive spin, but become very hollow and empty cliches.
Top
founder
supporter
sponsor
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10257) 15 years ago
>> . . .unprincipled) form of socialism.

Myself, I was hoping Rick would define what he felt to be "principled socialism"
- - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - -


Given that populism is a style of politics, more than it is a fixed ideology it's possible to equate populism with just about any ideology that comes down the road. Too many movements throughout history have called themselves populists for it to be the domain of any one party or ideology.

In U.S. history (in Montana's political history for that matter), the alliance between the Non-Partisan League and the Farmer-Labor Party can be said to have had a strong (non-Marxist) socialist tinge to it.

By the same token, the Free Silver Populist Coalition (which included such Montanans as Marcus Daily in it ranks) could be said to have had a strong capitalist / market place tinge to it.

The brief foray of the KKK into politics in the 1920s was a populist-type movement that had nothing to do with socialism or capitalism.

As Bridgier points out, the ranks of "populist" politicians are riddled contradictions. I would two to his list: Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin.

That being said . . . I don't think it's any more accurate to equate what is being touted as 21st Century Democratic Populism / Prairie Populism with populist movements of the last century . . . than it is to maintain that today's progressive movement has much in common with the Progressives of the last century.

And as we all know, political and ideological labels morph and change with time.

Is the Democratic Party's ideology today the same that it was 100 years ago? Is the Republican Party's the same? Is "being" Liberal the same as it once was . . . is "being" Conservative the same as it once was?
- - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - -

Thanks for posting the article Stone - I found it interesting to read.
Top
supporter
Posted by Rick Kuchynka (+4453) 15 years ago
The reason populism is so hard to define is the same reason I described it as unprincipled. It isn't very well thought out, in that it isn't thought through to its conclusion... which is socialism.

In many cases "populist" is the name used by those who would otherwise be considered socialist, but are trying to avoid the negative connotation Bridgier alluded to, which only adds to the confusion.

In my view, populism aims to achieve the same types of goals true socialism (if attainable) would achieve. It's just that populism doesn't sweat the details. The mob takes what it wants and the details are left to iron themselves out later.
Top
supporter
Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr (+15370) 15 years ago
Seems to me that Pat Buchanan fits the description of a populist.

Why can't we all just be responsible for our own well being and quit expecting the goverment, the corporation, etc to provide "benefits".

[This message has been edited by Richard Bonine, Jr (edited 4/4/2007).]
Top
supporter
Posted by Stone (+1598) 15 years ago
To me the modern version of Democratic populism is anyone outside the party line. A grass roots movement moving away from the corporate backed parties of the present. Rick you can call it socialism if you like and spin any stereotype on it that you wish.
Top
founder
supporter
sponsor
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10257) 15 years ago
>>Seems to me that Pat Buchanan fits the description of a populist.

It seems that he does, if we look to the generally accepted definition of populism / popular movements . . . if we leave aside value judgments such as "principled or unprincipled , that is.



Robert J. Bresler. "Editorial: The Roots Of Conservative Populism - The State Of The Nation," USA TODAY, May, 1996.
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_n2612_v124/ai_18274636

"THE BUCHANAN INSURGENCY will not disappear soon. Pat Buchanan has tapped a source of anger, alienation, and anxiety boiling beneath the surface of American politics. He dubs himself a populist, a concept that embodies an attitude more than an ideology. Populist figures such as William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, Ross Perot, and Pat Buchanan can not be categorized easily. They all, however, invoked the virtues of the common folk and the corruption of the elites. . . ."

Myself, I think Buchanan has more in common with Huey Long than he does with most of the other populists Bresler cites in his editorial piece - except of course that Huey could win elections.



Terri Bimes in, "Ronald Reagan and The New Conservative Populism" (2002) (see below) outlines the case for Ronald Regan's growth as popular/populist politician.

(And I didn't choose to cite Bimes as a slam against Regan - it's simple recognition of the fact that the man was a masterful and skilled political leader, I'm not even going to call him a politician, as he was far more than that.)

Bimes Quote:

"Reagan drew upon the populist language coined in the nineteenth century by dramatically reinterpreting the meaning of the people and the special interests to fit his conservative agenda. . . .
. This paper attempts to gauge the validity of these contrasting claims by tracing the development of Reagan's rhetoric from his early forays into political activism through his presidency, and by comparing Reagan's use of populism to his immediate predecessors and successors. Reagan's populism emerged before his adoption of the conservative agenda of rolling back the national government. Campaigning for Harry Truman in 1948, Reagan attacked corporate greed, defended the common man, and attacked the Republican Congress for tax cuts that he and other Democrats charged were skewed toward the wealthy. With his conversion to conservatism in the 1950s and early 1960s, Reagan successfully adapted the Democrats' populist imagery to his much different political agenda. The national government replaced greedy corporations as the enemy of ordinary Americans, yet the structure of the appeal remained much the same.
. But Reagan also came to recognize the political risks posed by the populist jeremiad, and he consciously strove to create a more balanced rhetoric that defused charges of extremism.
"{1}
End Quote



And there are more than few examples (past and present) of political movements, political parties, and politicians to right of center that were "popular" in nature. The so-called Republican Revolution spearheaded by Newt Gingrich and his allies, certainly seems to meet the generally accepted definition of a populist movement.

But given Rick's insistence that popular movements are socialist, I guess in the interests of maintaining a civil dialogue we can't characterize movements or leaders on the right as a populist. If we are barred from using the Latinate words (popular, populist, etc) to describe people's movements taking place to the right of the aisle, I suppose we'll have to look to the Greek for a term to describe them. I guess we could label Buchanan and those on the right who lead popular movements as Demagogues (Demagogists?) - and coin a term Demagogism to denote peoples' movements on the right. In the interests of maintaining a civil dialogue I won't quote H.L. Mencken on demagogues, but it's good if you want to Google it

= = = = = = = = = = =
{1} Terri Bimes, "Ronald Reagan and The New Conservative Populism," Institute of Governmental Studies, Paper WP2002-1, August 27, 2002.
http://repositories.cdlib...s/WP2002-1
= = = = = = = = = = =


As an aside, it's interesting to see the diverse nature of those who consider themselves to be populists:
http://www.politicalcommu...people.php
http://www.progressivedai.../index.php
Top
supporter
Posted by Rick Kuchynka (+4453) 15 years ago
I don't think we're quite on the same wavelength here as far as what we mean by "populism"

So far I've seen a lot of attacks against what people assume I think "populism" means. I guess setting up your own targets makes target practice easier. But your ideas don't seem to quite match what I would define as populism.

First, I never said that populism was an ideology reserved only for people on the left. I can think of several prominent populist movements that have evolved from the right (or at least a coalition including members of the right) Pat Buchanan is a good example, but for the most part, I don't agree with where he's headed, so he doesn't really change my opinion that populism is really a blind push towards socialism. Contrary to popular opinion, such pushes can come from the right... just as fascist trends (typically thought of as ultra-right-wing) can also emerge from the left.

I think some of your definitions of "populism" are a little too generic, in that you could really use them to describe anyone. This makes the term virtually meaningless. If using folksy political rhetoric qualifies you as a "populist", then I can't think of anyone who's an exception. That's just what politicians do. The example of Reagan taking a "populist" stand against government is a very sketchy example. Conservatives have traditionally wanted smaller government. To have one speak those values in a more personal way for the electorate hardly turns it populist.

Anyway, if you're able to lump Reagan and the Free Silver movement together in the same type of "ideology", then I'd say that "ideology" must be watered down to the point of pointlessness.
Top
founder
supporter
sponsor
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10257) 15 years ago
>>Anyway, if you're able to lump Reagan and the Free Silver movement together in the same type of "ideology", then I'd say that "ideology" must be watered down to the point of pointlessness.

And of course, as folks have pointed out - as a few minutes of simple research reveals (even Google research) . . . populism is a style, a method, a way of conducting politics that has been utilized by many different parties & movements over time. It is neither a specific ideology nor something that is unique to any one party. It is a label that is descriptive of the means & methods employed - not of ideology. Once a person gets past the mistaken notion that it is an ideology, then it can begin to make sense.


Rick Kuchynka wrote:
>>First, I never said that populism was an ideology reserved only for people on the left.

Ah . . . my mistake. Sorry.


Rick Kuchynka wrote:
>> Populism is basically just a covert (and unprincipled) form of socialism.

Rick Kuchynka wrote:
>> In my view, populism aims to achieve the same types of goals true socialism (if attainable) would achieve.
Top
supporter
Posted by Bob L. (+5096) 15 years ago
I guess setting up your own targets makes target practice easier.

-------------------------------------

Ah, smell the irony.
Top
supporter
Posted by Rick Kuchynka (+4453) 15 years ago
as a few minutes of simple research reveals (even Google research) . . . populism is a style

You said it with such confidence, that I figured I'd better follow up on it.

http://www.google.com/sea...q=populism

Please elaborate for me which entries here back up your statement that populism as an ideology is a "mistaken notion"

Are we really saying that "populists" are simple employers of a certain style of rhetoric? Kind of like a Toastmasters' club for barnyard oratory?

First entry:

Populism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Populism, by its traditional definition, is a political doctrine or philosophy that aims to defend the interests of the common people against an entrenched elite.


Next up:

Populist Party (United States) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Populist Party (also known as the People's Party) was a short-lived political party in the United States in the late 19th century. ...


Which must have been.. yes, a whole political party that was devoted not to an "ideology", but a manner of communicating.

Then we have various historical entries about "populism"... which of course must all be about the longterm and widespread use of folksy rhetoric.

Anyway, I can't see a single article that would back up your assertion that populism cannot be considered an ideology. You may find some shelter in the fact that populism CAN mean what you're saying it means (populism as a style of communication). But as we all know, words can and do have many different meanings.

Which is where the aforementioned context enters... context that was opened in a thread starting with an article titled "Windows Into Populism's Rise"

When he says "Populism's Rise" is he just celebrating an increase in a certain fashion of political speech?

Rick Kuchynka wrote:
>>First, I never said that populism was an ideology reserved only for people on the left.


Again, as I tried to explain before, I believe (and this thread is a great testament) that populism as an ideology leans left, but like fascism, is not limited exclusively to one side or the other.

[This message has been edited by Rick Kuchynka (edited 4/12/2007).]
Top
founder
supporter
sponsor
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10257) 15 years ago
I see the Miles City library has this:

Thomas A. Clinch, URBAN POPULISM AND FREE SILVER IN MONTANA: A NARRATIVE OF IDEOLOGY IN POLITICAL ACTION (Missoula: University of Montana Press, 1970)

This is an excellent read. Clinch provides insight Montana politics in the late 19th century that goes far beyond the Populists / Free Silverites. Clinch taught for years at Carroll.

The People's Party (a.k.a. Populist Party) had a big influence on Montana's politics at the close of the 19th century. The movement in Montana at that time was not as agrarian in nature as it was elsewhere - Montana had to wait until the opening decades of the 20th century before flirting agrarian reform movements.

But, all things considered, the Populists did well in Montana elections.

1892 GENERAL ELECTION

Presidential Electors:
Benjamin Harrison / Whitelaw Reid - REPUBLICAN PARTY: 18,851 votes
Grover Cleveland / Adlai E Stevenson - DEMOCRATIC PARTY: 17,581 votes
James Weaver / James Field - PEOPLE'S PARTY: 7,334 votes
John Bidwell / JB Cranfill - PROHIBITION PARTY: 549 votes

Governor:
John E Rickards - REPUBLICAN PARTY: 18,187 votes
Timothy E Collins - DEMOCRATIC PARTY: 17,762 votes
William Kennedy - PROGRESSIVE PARTY: 7,794 votes
JM Waters - PROHIBITION PARTY: 543 votes

US House:
Charles S Hartman - REPUBLICAN PARTY: 17,934 votes
William W Dixon - DEMOCRATIC PARTY: 17,762
Caldwell Edwards - PROGRESSIVE PARTY: 7,027 votes
Benjamin Atkins - PROHIBITION PARTY: 601

State Senate seats won:
9 Democrats
7 Republicans

State House seats won:
26 Democrats
26 Republicans
3 Populists
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Source: Waldron, Ellis L, and Paul B Wilson. ATLAS OF MONTANA ELECTIONS, 1889-1976 (Missoula: University of Montana Publications in History, 1978), pp. 15-17.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The 1896 general election was a little messier - by then, both major parties were more adept at reaching out to populist voters. Candidates from both major parties sought out and won endorsement from third parties and sometime ran representing multiple parties.

1896 GENERAL ELECTION

Presidential Electors:
William Jennings Bryan / Arthur Sewall - DEMOCRATIC, PROGRESSIVE, & SILVER REPUBLICAN parties: 42,537 votes
William McKinley / Garret A Hobart - REPUBLICAN PARTY: 10,494 votes
Joshua Levering / Hale Johnson - PROHIBITION PARTY: 186 votes

Governor:
Robert B Smith - DEMOCRATIC & PROGRESSIVE parties: 36,688 votes
Alexander C Botkin - SILVER REPUBLICAN: 14,993 votes

US House:
Charles S Hartman - SILVER REPUBLICAN: 33,932 votes
OF Goodard - REPUBLICAN PARTY: 9,492 votes

State Senate seats won:
8 Democrats
12 Republicans
3 Progressives

State House seats won:
42 Democrats
8 Republicans
18 Progressives
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Source: Waldron, Ellis L, and Paul B Wilson. ATLAS OF MONTANA ELECTIONS, 1889-1976 (Missoula: University of Montana Publications in History, 1978), pp. 20-22.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I see the MCC library has this - Goodwyn should provide context to help understand where Montana's flirtation with the 19th century populism fits into the larger picture.

Lawrence Goodwyn, DEMOCRATIC PROMISE: THE POPULIST MOMENT IN AMERICA (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).

Goodwyn is a pretty solid historian there's a bit of bio information on him here, along with a brief review of the "Democratic Promise."
http://www.thehighhat.com...odwyn.html



If anyone is interested in reading more on the US People's Party / Populist Party of the 19th century than what Wiki has to say - here are a couple online sources:

"An Outline of American History - Chapter Eight: Agrarian Distress and the Rise of Populism," From Revolution to Reconstruction, Department of Humanities Computing, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 1994- 2006.
http://odur.let.rug.nl/~u...ch8_p1.htm

Rebecca Edwards and Sarah DeFeo, "The Populist Party," 1896 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: CARTOONS & COMMENTARY, Vassar College, 2000.
http://projects.vassar.ed...lists.html

Rebecca Edwards, "SHGAPE Bibliographical Essays: Recent Literature on American Populism," H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online, 1995-2005.
http://www.h-net.msu.edu/...ulism.html

The Omaha Platform / Populist Party Platform, 1892 (July 4, 1892)
http://www.sagehistory.ne...t1892.html
http://www.pinzler.com/us...tsupp.html
Top
founder
supporter
sponsor
Posted by Hal Neumann (+10257) 15 years ago
Rick Kuchynka wrote:
>>Populism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Populism, by its traditional definition, is a political doctrine or philosophy that aims to defend the interests of the common people against an entrenched elite.


That fine as far as it goes, but of course there is more to that Wikipedia entry:

"Populism, by its traditional definition, is a political doctrine or philosophy that aims to defend the interests of the common people against an entrenched, self-serving or corrupt elite.

Recent scholarship, however, has discussed populism as a rhetorical style; as such, the term "populist" may be applied to proponents of widely varying political philosophies. Leaders of populist movements in recent decades have claimed to be on both the left and the right of the political spectrum, while some populists claim to be neither "left wing," "centrist" nor "right wing" . . . .
"

There's still even more to the entry if anyone (other than Rick and myself) is interested - but I suspect that no one else is interested
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism


My original point (whether I expressed it clearly or not) was that the following statements cannot be correct when issued as a statement of universal truth.

Rick Kuchynka wrote:
>> Populism is basically just a covert (and unprincipled) form of socialism.

Rick Kuchynka wrote:
>> In my view, populism aims to achieve the same types of goals true socialism (if attainable) would achieve.


Now . . . I fully understand that you've subsequently clarified what you meant with these assertions. My thanks to you for that It appears that even though we don't agree whether populism is an ideology or a method of implementing an ideology, we do agree that is not specifically a socialist ideology.
Top