Saturday, May 10, 2008

There's two kinds of populist: the kind that wants to help the rich, and the kind that wants to help the rest of us

Let Them Eat Arugula - The New Republic

This is a strong analysis. The following passage is key:

Liberal populism is mostly harnessed to a concrete legislative program aimed at broadening prosperity. Al Gore's "people versus the powerful" campaign focused on his differences with Bush over issues like regulation of HMOs and progressive taxation. Conservative populism, by contrast, is a way of exploiting the grievances it identifies without redressing them. It has an ever-shifting array of targets--Michael Dukakis's veto of a law requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or the rantings of Jeremiah Wright--but no way to knock them down.

Conservative populists sometimes ape liberal populism by promising material benefits to average people. But the promise is structured so as to pose no threat to any wealthy economic interest. George W. Bush offered tax cuts to the middle class, but paired them with far larger tax cuts for the rich, so that, ultimately, the middle class bore a larger proportion of the tax burden.

In short, conservative "populism" is a form of political misdirection in which the phrase "I'm one of you" can be more accurately translated as "I don't give a damn about you."

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