Populism lives! But, whose populism, and for what purposes? Like now, populism tends to emerge whenever lots of Americans believe that their interests are being ignored by the political establishment (populist party, progressive movement, conservative Christian evangelism). And, we always have to ask the same basic questions:
- Why do waves of populism happen? What are they appealing to? Is it to regular folks’ needs or to their resentments? Is populism inclusive or (despite its name) exclusive?
- Is economic populism different from cultural populism? What draws people to each?
- What are the differences between American right-wing and left-wing populism? Can both exist and be influential at the same time?
- What, if anything, distinguishes today’s movements, like the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and Tea Party movements, from each other and their predecessors?
- What is the future of American populism: The dawn of a new age, or back in the trunk?
In my opening, I’ll focus on just the first two of these. I’ll give a standard definition of populism and then try to shed some light on why it happens in America the way it does. Then, we can do the usual open discussion. My intent as moderator is to challenge any cozy ideas people might have about why populist movements begin and why they so often fall short of their creators’ expectations. (Examples: Right-wing populism like the Tea Parties only succeeds because of effective propaganda; Left-wing populism like the OWS movements is only motivated by upper class white guilt or radical egalitarian ideology.)
We’ll also hear a lot from Peter, an actual Occupy San Diego participant. I’ll keep my remarks brief so we have lots of time to talk.
For links, this group does not need polysci 101 on what is populism. Here are a few articles analyzing OWS and the Tea Parties.
- The problem with populism.
- Why so few people sympathize with OWS as a movement. In fact, the public seldom sides with protestors in American history.
- Should Democrats just give up on the white working class?
— Yes. Democratic populism will attract mainly people of color and educated liberals.
— No. Things are so bad the white working class is up for grabs for the first time since
the civil rights era.
— Question: How “populist” would such a coalition be?
- The Tea Parties: We have discussed them before. Two articles related to their populist dimension:
— Is the Tea Party the “Right’s New Left?”
— A similar view: Tea Parties tap white conservatives’ cultural resentments.
I sent a press release to local Democratic clubs and a few others. Let’s all turn out.