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Christine Pelosi

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Populism Isn't 'Disastrous' -- It's Democratic

Posted: 12/03/2013 3:19 pm

As a lifelong Democratic activist, I'm always fascinated by those whose first order of business -- and I do mean business -- is to trash my beliefs in order to sell me a new party platform or candidate. So it came as no surprise that think tankers pushing a corporate agenda would insult populism as "disastrous" rather than democratic.

The latest salvo comes as a Wall Street Journal attack on Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren as leaders whose "disastrous" ideas would take the Democratic Party "over a populist cliff" despite the fact that, as Think Progress points out, their policy views are widely held by the majority of the American people. We are offered a supposed "collision course between the Great Society safety net and the New Frontier investments" that can be resolved with cutting Social Security.


It would be "disastrous" to accept this false choice between the American safety net and investments in jobs and education when the truth is there is a parallel path that can be funded with creating jobs and ending large-scale corporate welfare.

It would be "disastrous" to ask President Barack Obama to abandon his pledges to ask more from America's wealthiest to invest in jobs and preschool and to keep the American Safety Net of Social Security and Medicare as intergenerational promises.

It would be "disastrous" for any president to undo his platform -- especially one so needed as Obama's. We need jobs, growth and the American safety net now more than ever. Americans remain concerned that the American Dream is falling out of reach; that the end of industrialization and the rise of automation provide too few job opportunities even for those with college degrees carrying too much debt. Both Barack Obama and Joe Biden campaigned in 2012 on the promise to fight for jobs and tax reform and to protect Social Security and Medicare -- so why should Obama flip flop now that he's won? Why should President Obama give up his pledge to tackle the elephant in the room known as corporate welfare?

We have values-based budgets such as the House Democrats' H.R. 2060: Stop the Sequester Job Loss Now Act Through 2014 that would stop the sequester, create jobs, reform corporate welfare, and protect the promise of Social Security and Medicare.

It would be "disastrous" for Democrats to abandon populism for corporatism. There is a better direction. Pope Francis stated the case unequivocally last week: "No to a financial system which rules rather than serves." In Evangelii he wrote that trickle-down economic theory "expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.'

While Rush Limbaugh calls this papal exhortation "pure Marxism," neither the facts nor the values nor voters are on his side. Most Americans agree with Pope Francis that "unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric" and that "Money must serve, not rule!" Opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal preschool and to saving the American safety net indicates a third way closer to Limbaugh than to Pontifex that would be "disastrous" politically, economically and morally.

It would be "disastrous" -- and downright disrespectful -- to put 2016 before 2013. We expect this from the Republicans -- after all, they promised to lame duck the Democratic president on the first day of his first term -- so their obstruction, while regretful, is at least understandable. But the efforts to sabotage progressive ideas in order to advance a corporate-friendly candidate in 2016 shows the fear of a populist majority from some in the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. The mere thought of a progressive challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016 so scared some of her allies - who often view the Obama presidency as the inter-regnum not the regnum - that they have stumbled out of the gate with slights to the president and attacks on his progressive partners. And yes, today's "fantasy" insult to Democratic progressives echoes the 2008 "fairy tale" insult to then Senator Obama. We hear you loud and clear and we are asking you to stop.

It would be "disastrous" to fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party by demonizing some of the angels on the barricades, be they students for jobs and opportunity, fasters for immigration reform, strikers for workers rights, marchers for voting rights and civil rights, or families for women's rights, reproductive justice, healthcare, fair pay, sick leave and -- yes -- universal preschool. Each and all of these efforts have brought new energy and election victories to the Democratic party, and are moving America in a better direction. Our votes are the majority of the Democratic electorate and our values are shared by the majority of the American people.

Populism isn't "disastrous" -- it's democratic. There are fights and debates and pickets and pitchforks. That's the nature of an engaged electorate. And the more political leaders we have listening and building coalitions among these engaged Americans the better for our democracy. So I would ask our conservative friends and colleagues, rather than tell us we're wrong, why not work with us to do what most Americans believe is right -- even if the idea comes from your left?


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