Words have meaning, but the Beltway press is in the process of stripping "populism" of its descriptive value as pundits and reporters continue to misuse the word in connection with the right-wing movement that obsessively opposes President Obama. Far from being a populist surge, the movement, led by talkers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who pollute the airwaves through smears and innuendos, remains completely divorced from the traditional sense of what "populism" has stood for in American politics. Yet the press keeps reaching for the wrong phrase.
Rallying people around a sweeping -- and at times uncontrollable -- hatred of the president, and trying to demonize him at every turn? That's not "populism." And relentlessly painting the federal government as being an intrinsic evil that must be beaten back with physical violence if necessary? Sorry, folks, but that's insurrectionism.
And besides, since when do so-called populists claim the president's a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred of white people," and who wants to put a spike in the heads of babies? Since when do populists call for a military coup to overthrow the White House, constantly compare the president to a Nazi, denounce him as a "small, petty and spoiled man," and pull their kids out of school in order to make sure they're not "indoctrinated" by the president?
During the 1990s, the black helicopter/militia crowd spread all kinds of similar hate smears and anti-government conspiracy theories about the Clinton administration (i.e. the New World Order). But the Beltway press didn't anoint those crazies as "populists." So why should today's right-wing radicals, and their media rabble-rousers, get to bask in the feel-good "populist" glow?
Read the full Media Matters column here.