How, in a self-described democracy, is it possible for the concept of populism to be denigrated? Isn't democracy the most radically populist concept in political history, and shouldn't populism - ie. advocating what the people want - be the dominant paradigm in a democracy? This is the question I ponder in my latest newspaper column.
Over the last few months, we've seen a pretty stunning amount of histrionic propaganda from the Punditburo about the supposed "dangers" of populism in American politics. We're told the biggest threat to America isn't rapacious greedheads on Wall Street, corrupt government kleptocrats deregulating everything they can get their hands on, or even Islamic terrorists intent on killing thousands. No, the biggest threats, says the Punditburo, are millions of justifiably angry American citizens actually forcing government to do what we want.
It's really Orwellian - you can barely find a news story referring to populism that doesn't put the word populism next to a word like "dangerous" or "angry." It is as if we're expected to believe we've suffered through too many years of government being too responsive to a public that wants tax fairness, health care reform, an end to the war in Iraq, better financial regulation.
Of course, it's the opposite.
If there has been any one problem tying all the other problems of the last 30 years together, it is that we've had a government that brazenly ignores the public in whose name it governs. This started in the 1980s, and became completely overt in the last few years to the point where when a sitting vice president was asked whether he "cares what the American people think" about a policy, he said "No."
Now, with the public more restive than ever, the political class understands that there is a very real threat to the established order and the status quo. And so the propaganda campaign is on - a propaganda campaign that I show is straight out of Richard Nixon's 1972 playbook.
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