It would be a huge mistake for Democrats to dismiss the newfound economic populism of Republican presidential candidates as obviously laughable given Republicans' deep alliance with corporate America. Republicans are aiming to pull off a populist jiu-jitsu, using anger at corporate influence over government to justify even more dismantling of government. It could work.
We are the richest country humanity has ever seen, and we are at our richest moment. Yet hardworking Americans keep coming home to "a plate full of worry." This is largely because over the last few decades the wages of the bottom 80 percent of Americans have fallen or stagnated while the super-rich rake in all the profits. We can do better, and we must.
Voters are likely to remain dubious about candidates who offer only vague platitudes about key issues like jobs, wages, and trade without making firm commitments or offering specific proposals. The Maryland race has just begun, of course. But so far, it seems to point to the pitfalls of corporate "centrism" -- and the promise of economic populism.
One of the tiredest clichés in all of American politics -- and a favorite of D.C. "centrists" -- is that economic populism is all about beating up on the rich and redistributing income instead of pursuing economic growth. But Elizabeth Warren and her fellow progressives are not, either in rhetoric or policy, anti-growth or anti-business or out to "soak" the rich.
Tonight, the president rallied the nation to challenge an economic system that has ill-served regular Americans for far too long. Senator Warren, and the grassroots movement she has so inspired, helped make that possible, by showing that at this time in American history, such a battle cry would could take wing. Tonight was their triumph, too.
Political professionals scorn protest campaigns. Generally, they get little attention and attract few votes. Sometimes, by happenstance, they can be destructive, as demonstrated by Ralph Nader's third-party campaign in 2000. But these are not normal times. America's extreme and growing inequality, its falling middle class and its obscenely corrupted politics demand the end of politics as usual. As Teachout argues forcefully, the Democratic Party faces a fierce debate about its direction and basic values. The gap between its deep-pocket Wall Street and corporate donors and the working families it claims to represent is now a chasm. A new economic populism has begun to build. And that means that campaigns like Teachout's are increasingly important.