While our President and other politicians have been learning the talk of populism in the last few weeks, a lot of media ink, electronic and otherwise, has been given over to trashing the walk of the populist.  Of particular interest is David Brooks’ explanation of the media/political world view in his recent article The Populist Addiction:

Politics, some believe, is the organization of hatreds. The people who try to divide society on the basis of ethnicity we call racists. The people who try to divide it on the basis of religion we call sectarians. The people who try to divide it on the basis of social class we call either populists or elitists.

And I have to say, I agree that politics is all about fear and divisiveness and name calling. And its goal is to keep and amass power.

But politics is not the same as governance.  Governance is about getting things done.  It is about taking care of the business of its citizens.  The goal of good governance is to serve and protect its citizens.  And good governance gains its strength and empowerment through its ability to unify its citizens.

The only unifying elements of our current governance and two political parties is the almost universal recognition of their profound dysfunction and our outraged demands for change.

The Cambridge dictionary defines populism as

“political ideas and activities that are intended to represent ordinary people’s needs and wishes.”

The classic definition of populism is derived from the Latin word populus… Populism espouses government by the people as a whole (that is to say, the masses). This is in contrast to elitism, aristocracy, synarchy, plutocracy, each of which is an ideology that espouse government by a small, privileged group above the masses.


What we Americans now have is political rule.  Parties who know more about playing politics then governing and who know and understand the wants and needs of business and special interests more than the very real needs and interests of ordinary citizens.

Political rule is not representative government.  And least not our representative government.  And that is what the American people object to. We want our ‘we the people’ back.  Because now the stakes are too high for us to ignore.  Or as Simon Johnson points out “We are therefore doomed to run headlong into another crisis.”

So is it any surprise that Populism is on the rise?

From Rasmussen polling from January 18 through January 24:

Sixty-five percent (65%) of voters nationwide now hold populist, or Mainstream, views of government. That’s up from 62% last September and 55% last March.

Mainstream Americans tend to trust the wisdom of the crowd more than their political leaders and are skeptical of both big government and big business.

While Republicans and unaffiliated voters are more likely to hold Mainstream views than Democrats, a majority of those in the president’s party (51%) hold such views.

And it is not an issue of tacking right, left or center.  Populism is a shoulder-to-shoulder down-in-the-trenches issue. More from Rasmussen:

76% of voters generally trust the American people more than political leaders on important national issues.

Seventy-one percent (71%) view the federal government as a special interest group, and

70% believe that the government and big business typically work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

On each question, a majority of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters share those views.

Either global warming is re-emerging or that is the cold sweat of fear we see trickling down the backs of the political class.

*****

Matt Taibbi takes down Mr. Brooks here.

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