Magazine article The Progressive

The Spark of Populism

Magazine article The Progressive

The Spark of Populism

Article excerpt

The media are at it again. They're calling anyone a populist who barks a lot. Rush Limbaugh is a populist, we are told. So is Newt Gingrich, and Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. Hey, Karl Rove dubbed her a populist, so it must be true.

Never mind that these media-anointed populists are usually barking at poor people, teachers, minorities, unions, liberals, protesters, environmentalists, gays, immigrants, or other demonized groups that generally reside far outside the center of the power structure.

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But barking doesn't make you a populist. What makes you a populist is standing up against the corporate powers that be.

Populism is not a style, nor is it a synonym for "popular outrage." It is a historically grounded political doctrine (and movement) that supports ordinary folks in their ongoing democratic fight against the moneyed elites.

The very essence of populism is its unrelenting focus on breaking the iron grip that big corporations have on our country--including on our economy, government, media, and environment. It is unabashedly a class movement. Try to squeeze Lord Limbaugh into that philosophical suit of clothes, and you can watch the buttons pop.

Egalitarian at the core, populists have always been out to empower workaday Americans so they can control their own economic and political destinies. This approach distinguishes the movement from classic liberalism, which seeks to live in harmony with concentrated corporate power by trying to regulate its excesses.

We're seeing liberalism at work today in Washington's Wall Street bailout. Both parties tell us that AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, and the rest are "too big to fail," so taxpayers simply "must" rescue the management, stockholders, and bondholders of the financial giants in order to save the system.

Populists, on the other hand, note that it is this very system that has caused the failure--so structural reform is required. …

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