A modern populist movement

by: Mike Lux

Thu Jul 08, 2010 at 11:17

The lengths to which pundits, analysts, and establishment political leaders have always gone to avoid using dreaded populism in their political strategies for Democrats has always been remarkable to me. From Republicans since Richard Nixon, appeals to a moralist and angry middle class are all politically brilliant, but Democrats, so it is said, should avoid it as a political tactic because it doesn't work. When Lee Atwater observes that "the swing vote in every Presidential election is populist in nature", he is a genius. When Democrats start sounding like populists, we are told it just doesn't work.

From the DLC to the New Democrats to the folks at Third Way to columnists like David Broder and David Brooks to authors and analysts like Matt Bai, the advice is to be careful about seeming too angry and too anti-business. Some argue that a democratic, progressive populism has never worked in American politics, that it was at its highest point under William Jennings Bryan and he was still a loser. Some will deign to admit that FDR showed a populist streak, but then say that no one else with a similar message has won a Presidential election. The more thoughtful of these analysts, such as Bai, point to demographic and economic changes as the reason. Bai believes that "the only potent grass-roots movement to emerge from this moment of dissatisfaction with America's economic elite exists not in support of the president or his party, but far to the right instead, in the form of the so-called Tea Party rebellions that are injecting new energy into the Republican cause." He goes on to argue:

But there is something more fundamental going on here, too, an underlying shift in the meaning of American populism. Most Democrats, after all, persist in embracing populism as it existed in the early part of the last century - that is, strictly as a function of economic inequality. In this worldview, the oppressed are the poor, and the oppressors are the corporate interests who exploit them.

That made sense 75 years ago, when a relatively small number of corporations - oil and coal companies, steel producers, car makers - controlled a vast segment of the work force and when government was a comparatively anemic enterprise. In recent decades, however, as technology has reshaped the economy, more and more Americans have gone to work for smaller or more decentralized employers, or even for themselves, while government has exploded in size and influence. (It's not incidental that the old manufacturing unions, like the autoworkers and steelworkers, have been eclipsed in membership and political influence by those that represent large numbers of government workers.)

Since this transformation took place, a succession of liberal politicians - Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, John Edwards - have tried to run for president on a traditionally populist, anti-corporate platform, with little success. That is because today's only viable brand of populism, the same strain that Ross Perot expertly tapped as an independent presidential candidate in 1992, is not principally about the struggling worker versus his corporate master. It is about the individual versus the institution - not only business, but also government and large media and elite universities, too.

And yet, and yet...

We just saw a financial reform bill get steadily better over a two-week debate on the floor of the Senate, because politicians lived in mortal fear of appearing to kow-tow to the big banks. We just saw a health care debate where the only time Democrats got any message traction at all was in a frontal assault on the insurance industry. We've seen a massive outpouring of anger at BP over the oil spill, with Republicans scurrying for cover when their ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee apologized to BP over Obama's mistreatment of them. We've seen a spring of big rallies all over the country against the big banks- in Chicago, in San Francisco, in Denver, in Kansas City, in North Carolina, on Wall Street itself and on K Street in Washington, DC.

Is the "only potent grassroots" populist movement on the right? Is populism for Democrats a dead strategy?

I explore that question in the extended entry.

Mike Lux :: A modern populist movement
Being a student of history, and an active participant in movement politics right now, I think it is important to make a few points here.

First, it's important to note that a clear, vibrant form of progressive populism has been a part of the American political debate from the very beginning, and continues to win its share of elections. Tom Paine's entire political project was a celebration of the working class and their economic rights in a democratic society. Thomas Jefferson's guiding goal in politics was to fight on behalf of the little guy, the small farmers and workers who populated the countryside and fought against the big city merchants and bankers. Andrew Jackson came to power railing against wealthy bankers and insider deals. It wasn't just William Jennings Bryan in the 1890s: a full-throated fight on behalf of workers and small farmers has been a part of our political debate from day one until today.

In modern times, too, progressive populism has not been absent as a winning theme in our politics. FDR, of course, famously won by "welcoming [the wealthy's] hatred." Harry Truman scored the biggest upset in American political history running a 100% populist campaign, railing in his stump speeches against "a return of the Wall Street economic dictatorship." LBJ and Sam Rayburn were old-school Texas populists who sounded more like Jim Hightower than most modern politicians. Bill Clinton, whose campaign manifesto was titled Putting People First, was full of old-school economic populism ("helping those who work hard and play by the rules", "forcing the very wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, closing corporate tax loopholes...") and beat Paul "I'm not Santa Claus" Tsongas in the primary by emphasizing his support of Social Security and other government programs. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by campaigning on behalf of the "people instead of the powerful". A Democratic populist streak has remained as a part of successful campaigns up until the present day.

But let me take a moment to address the specific populist campaigns Bai raised. Let's take the candidates he mentioned in order. Jesse Jackson was a confrontational, highly controversial (including within his own civil rights community) movement preacher who had never run for political office before he ran for President in 1984 and 1988. Most of the establishment black leaders endorsed Mondale, and Jesse's overwhelming numbers among black voters surprised everyone in 1984. In 1988, he expanded on that base, finishing in double digits in virtually all-white Iowa in the same caucus with Midwesterners running strong populist campaigns, Dick Gephardt and Paul Simon (who I worked for), finished 1st and 2nd. Jesse then went on to win several more primaries and caucuses before outlasting every other candidate besides the nominee Mike Dukakis, and finishing a solid second in votes and delegates in the primary process. Remember, this was a generation ago, and Jesse- unlike Obama 20 years later- was culturally identified as a quintessentially old school black minister. The fact that an extremely underfunded candidate like Jackson was able to win so many white working-class votes a mere 20 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. was greeted with riots in northern cities like Chicago is pretty remarkable.

Jerry Brown is a very odd guy to throw in this mix. He ran for President three times, the first two as the funky, unconventional governor of California with a mix of items on his platform that could hardly called conventional Democratic populism. I'm guessing Bai is referring to Brown's last run for President, where he did run as an outsider and had some progressive things he was pushing for, but also advocated some highly unprogressive ideas like a tax plan that included a flat tax and a value-added tax, written for him by Reagan adviser and supply-side guru Arthur Laffer. Accepting no money except contributions under $100, Brown was overwhelmingly outspent, and was considered very much of a fringe candidate, but still won upset victories in seven states, and was a threat to Clinton before fading at the end of the race. Like Jackson in 1988, his votes won to money raised ratio was by far the best of any candidate in the race.

Then there's John Edwards. In the 2004 race, Edwards started as a DLCer, and had a somewhat muddled identity as a little-known (and very inexperienced) candidate in the middle of the race. But he soon honed his son-of-a-mill-worker, two Americas message, and surged dramatically in the last couple of weeks of the campaign- polls had him at 5% a couple of weeks before the caucus date, and he finished at 32%, just six points back of John Kerry. And as my old friend Michael Whouley, who was working for Kerry, told me a few weeks later, "Iowa was everything." From that point on, the Iowa momentum carried Kerry to the primary victory, although Edwards stayed close for many weeks after with far less money. But if Edwards had surged just a little bit higher in Iowa, he would have been the nominee.

And speaking of far less money, Edwards was utterly swamped by both the money and media attention of the Barack-Hillary showdown four years later, yet ended up beating Hillary for second place in the Iowa caucuses with his populist message. No one not named Hillary or Barack had a chance in 2008, but again, a deeply underfunded, deeply flawed populist candidate performed better than he should have. And speaking of Hillary, after she finally rejected Mark Penn's idiot "this is not a change election" advice, and morphed into a populist battler for the working class, she started beating Obama in a bunch of the big primary states. It was too late for her to win by that point, but she once again showed the power of the basic message.

Finally, let's move to Perot, Bai's version of a successful populist focused not on an anti-corporate populism but on the federal deficit. The first thing to note, as someone who was watching the daily tracking numbers every day in that election from the Clinton war room in Little Rock, is that Perot's appeal had at least as much to do with his strong anti-NAFTA position as it did with his deficit positioning. A second thing: unlike all of the above candidates, Perot spent more than $70 million in a race he was in for only a few weeks (he got back in on October 1), vastly outspending Clinton and Bush in ad money down the stretch. I remember the polling well on that race: contrary to conventional wisdom, Perot voters were evenly split among those who would have voted for Bush and Clinton had he not been in the race (along with a fair share who would not have voted at all). Perot's vote was mostly white, mostly working-class, more male than female, and most of it was classic protest vote: when we asked people how they would vote if the election were too close to call, his vote got shaved by two-thirds.

So Bai thinks of a protest vote third-party candidate with a massive amount of money to boost his numbers as a more successful candidate than a series of vastly outspent candidates who outperformed expectations, and he chooses to ignore Perot's other main issue besides deficits- NAFTA- which was as traditionally populist an issue as you can get. Sounds to me like a classic establishment pundit looking for reasons to dismiss progressive populism.

What Bai and other pundits also choose to ignore are examples of Democratic success with the populist message. As I wrote above, Bill Clinton's 1992 Putting People First message was actually very populist in nature: taxes on the wealthy, close corporate loopholes, health care for all, clean up the campaign finance system, better wages for workers, etc. He gave some important nods to moderate voters, like his welfare reform ads, but he ran and won on bread-and-butter populism.

Eight years later, Gore won 500,000 more popular votes (and almost certainly won Florida absent the disenfranchisement of black voters and the ballot problems in a couple of counties) on his campaign to put the people over the powerful. In fact, if you look at the last 20 years of Presidential politics, the two most populist general election candidates (Clinton '92 and Gore 2000) both won the popular vote, and the history of Democratic primaries is such that the candidates with the most populist messages (Jackson '88, Gephardt '88, Brown '92, Edwards '04/'08, Hillary post-Penn) all exceeded expectations and vastly over-performed the usual money to votes ratio for every other candidate.

I'll add one other note here, a non-Presidential postscript. With the exception of four old-school progressive populists from the Northeast (Ted Kennedy, Bernie Sanders, Sheldon White House, Eliot Spitzer), most of the statewide politicians over the last 20 years that have run the strongest progressive populist campaigns- Byron Dorgan in North Dakota, Tom Harkin in Iowa, Paul Wellstone and later Al Franken in Minnesota, Brian Schweitzer and Jon Tester in Montana, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Jeff Merkley in Oregon, Jim Webb in Virginia- have come from swing or even lean-GOP states. The Senators and Governors from swing-red states above, come from every region in the country, and won their races against mostly well-funded and relatively strong candidates. To make the claim that progressive populism can't or doesn't work in modern American politics, in swing or even red states, is simply wrong.

One final point before I leave Mr. Bai, this one on economics. Bai made the point, not backed up by any numbers, that the reason progressive populism was failing was because our economic system had changed. And it has gone through a lot of transformation, it is true. It is certainly true that because of Social Security, Medicare, and other safety net programs put in place by FDR, LBJ, and Clinton, there is less abject poverty than there was in the 1930s. But the concentration of wealth and the gap between CEOs and workers is actually worse. The income stagnation for middle-class families over the last four decades compared to the massive gains in wealth for the top 1% make "times have changed, workers have less reason to be upset about income inequality" arguments seem pretty hollow. The economic pain felt by middle-class Americans right now in this jobless "recovery" is far greater than elite pundits in DC or NYC realize. The anger voters are feeling at the banks and other economic elites is real: you can check any polling data or focus group to find out.

So where does that leave us? If Bai and his fellow establishment pundits are wrong about whether progressive populism could be successful in the modern era, what about the claim that the tea parties are the only ones with a potent grassroots movement? I frankly think the jury is still out on this one. It is ironic, but not the least bit surprising, that it's big corporate money and elite media coverage that has fueled the growth of the tea party movement, but even so, I am forced to admit that they have created a movement moment of sorts, and achieved some real successes. Can the anger we know is out there toward Wall Street, BP, the health insurance companies, etc. be catalyzed into a real movement?

There are some important efforts out there making the attempt to spark something:

  • MoveOn.org has launched a major new campaign around their Fight Washington Corruption Pledge. They are asking candidates and members of Congress to sign onto a platform that includes public financing of campaigns, major lobbying reform, and a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. Huge numbers of their members, other important groups, and increasing numbers of politicians are signing on.

  • National People's Action, the Pico national network, and SEIU have begun working together to organize people around the country to take on the big banks and their terrible practices that are ripping the hearts out of communities. They have already organized dozens of big and small actions going after banks and bank executives around the country, and have big plans going forward on the foreclosure issue and on getting local governments and other institutions to move their money out of the biggest banks.

  • NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, SEIU 1199, the AFL-CIO, PowerPAC and many other organizations have come together to organize something called One Nation, a national effort to engage low-income folks, people of color, youth, and women in promoting a progressive economic agenda. The organizing plan includes community meetings throughout the summer, a march on Washington, and a massive get out the vote drive.

Full disclosure: I have been working with all of these efforts in one way or another, officially or unofficially.

All of these efforts- plus the AFL-CIO's organizing work, the progressive netroots, and all the individual groups out there working to taking on corporate power: is it a movement? I guess it depends on how you define it. I don't think we have created enough of a spark yet, but I think the potential is clearly there for combustion. The anger at what corporate special interests have done to the American economy and the American people is real: the question is where it can be taken. I think all of the groups and leaders working on these campaigns need to keep talking to each other, and figuring out how they can spark each other's efforts.

One of the most important questions in creating a movement is how do the politicians react to it. The tea party has shown itself strong enough to force Republican politicians far to the right. The question for Democrats in this ugly year is how they respond to the anger in the electorate. The cautious, conventional wisdom response (as I have written about) is to move to the right as well. That's what many Democrats tried to do in other Republican tide years like 1994 and 2002, a strategy which mostly failed. I believe that Democrats' only hope is to partner with the still under-the-surface progressive populist movement that is building out there, to join with the people who are angry with Wall Street, big oil, and the big insurance companies. Mark Critz survived his special election in Pennsylvania by riding the populist tide on trade and jobs, and Blanche Lincoln turned the tide on her primary by taking on the big banks in the derivatives fight. A message of fighting for middle-class folks is the only thing, in my view, that gives Democrats a shot this year.

What the inside-the-Beltway punditry never gets is how Middle America defines "the center" of the political debate. In DC, being a centrist means being in the middle between the liberals and the far-right wing Republicans on issues that matter to the legion of corporate lobbyists that tend to run this town. In Middle America, being in the center means being the one who will fight for working people. In DC, Sherrod Brown and Brian Schweitzer are crazy liberals. Back home, in places like Ohio and Montana, they're just politicians who seem like they are on the people's side.

That's the center ground on which Democrats need to stand in this election year. They will lose corporate contributions as a result (it's not an accident that so many of the populist candidates discussed above were underfunded), but it's their one chance of identifying with the real pain and anger that people outside of DC are feeling. Reflecting that pain, reflecting that anger, and fighting for regular people is the way to win this year.

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It is dead as long as race-tribes dominate our political culture (0.00 / 0)
Certain people are just allergic to certain others based on race, and other tribal markers.

You can point out that this is how the Overlords divide and rule us, but it doesn't matter.

Consider the Ron Paul types, and Ron Paul himself.

We are bludgeoned by some news letter written in the early nineties "proving" that Ron Paul is a racist. Yet didn't we just lionize Senator Byrd who was a Grand Dragon of the KKK?

Selective forgiveness based on Manichaean black-white thinking.

The Ron Paul types are a decent 5% of the electorate, once properly marshaled. The GOP can't win without them. There was no need to enter into a full alliance with them. No, Democrats could have merely kept them wedged away from the GOP.

What happened? They, and any far-seeing true progressive who considered such a stratagem, were spit on. Now they eagerly await November where they can humble the Obama coalition.

The GOP on the other hand spent a lot of time and money creating an astro-turf Tea Party movement to try to recapture the right wing populists. They were successful (although how could they fail given the anti-populism of Obama?) Now the GOP is poised to win big in November less than 21 months after Dick Cheney was President. That should scare people.

Kinda like Americans electing a black man named Hussein 7 years on to the fraudulent War on Terror should have scared right wingers into action; which, to their credit, it did.

Look at Daily Kos, "mother ship" of "progressive" blogs. Cenk Uygur is castigated for pointing out The Obvious: Barack Obama is conservative. Not that being a true conservative is a bad thing in my book; it isn't. It's just that now we really need true change to avoid an apocalypse, so the cautious, symbolism-over-substance conservatism of Barack Obama just isn't getting the job done.

Back to race and other tribal markers: these are the real obstacles to a populist movement. The solution? Confront it head on and craft a platform that does two things:

1) Limits the platform of the movement to the big ticket items of peace, Constitutional reform, and the economy. All other side-show issues get put on hold till a future time (abortion, prayer in schools, drug legalization, gay marriage, amnesty, euthanasia...) the "social issues" the kleptocrats love to distract us with

2) Genuine Constitutional electoral reform so that we no longer have to hold our nose and vote or form unwieldy left-right "coalitions"; the Virginia planters chose the current system so that only things like Civil War could actually effect real change. That is a scary system to live under.

I offer this knowing that it has zero chance of coming to pass, and that human nature will demand an apocalypse before needed changes are enacted. But at least no one could say they "didn't know".

tribalism (4.00 / 1)
I would bet that if people had a clear choice between tribalism and economic populism, a majority would go with economic populism. The problem is that they don't have that choice. They have a choice between tribalism (Repubs) and the slightly more reasonable wing of the big business party (Dems.)

The most logical way to address this problem would be to start a new political party based on economic populism, but our current rigged system makes that impractical. I suggest a "sub-party" with all the independence and infrastructure of a regular political party, but that restricts itself to nominating and supporting candidates to run in Democratic primaries. Such candidates could carry the sub-party banner to establish a brand as economic populists free from the taint of the corporate Dems, but avoid the pitfall of being spoilers. This would give people a real choice. Economic populism could be on the ballot for people to choose from.


[ Parent ]
There's more than one kind of populism (4.00 / 4)
Economic populism is just one of them, and the one that Dems have been most associated with historically. But there's also cultural and social populism, religious populism, regional populism, ideological populism, etc. And Repubs have been extremely effective in identifying and exploiting such kinds of populism to their advantage, ever since they began abandoning their elitist New England-based brand of noblesse oblige patrician republicanism for a more southern and midwestern-based brand of "rugged individualist" populism.

I mean, what is "god, guns and gays" (and, not that long ago, and now once again in thinly-veiled form, fear of people of color) but a cynical but effective way of exploiting a certain kind of cultural, social and rural populism that's prevalent among many Americans, in their identification with what they view as traditional religious, cultural and regional values, none of which have much directly to do with economic issues? The GOP has been masterful in exploiting such populism.

I'm not suggesting that Dems do the same, at least in such a cynical and exploitative manner. But they do have to be aware of such non-economic strands of populism, and take them into account in their messaging, ideas and even policies. And the kinds of non-economic-based populism that's dominant these days makes it hard for Dems to revive economic populism, at least by itself. Both Clinton and Obama were shrewd enough to realize this, and made their campaigns less about the little guy against The Man, and more about celebrating everyday people and their ordinary but poignant plights.

Even though they clearly and undeniably are, and deep down probably know it, most Americans don't like to think of themselves as victims of an oppressive and unfair economic system, and tend to recoil at attempts to remind or inform them of this. There are millions of massively in-denial Joe the Plumbers out there, who deep down know that they're being screwed by someone, but prefer to believe that it's by liberals, not conservatives, because they're been brainwashed to believe that unregulated business is GOOD, and the "welfare state" is BAD. They've been tricked by the right into putting their vanity above their economic well-being, and the mechanism for doing this is non-economic populism.

Dems have to identify and understand all the different kinds of populism out there and come up with ways to reconcile them with each other and with their values, ideas, goals and policies, and effectively harness them politically. And not just when they campaign, as Clinton and Obama did so well, but when they actually GOVERN, which they did and have not. When you promise but don't deliver, the public figures it out sooner or later, and punishes you for it. Dems don't seem to know this, either. Which is sad, and worrisome.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

let's see if we can figure this out (4.00 / 3)
left-wing populism in power benefits the people towards the bottom. right-wing populism in power benefits the people and institutions at the top. (putting aside non-economic issues for the moment.)

we find that "pundits, analysts, and establishment political leaders" are terribly concerned that everyone understand that Republican populism rules, Democratic populism drools.

now what could that possibly be about?

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

One model -- (4.00 / 6)
"Back home, in places like Ohio and Montana, they're just politicians who seem like they are on the people's side."

That's also what people in DC (and I suspect, in most of the country) don't get about Bernie Sanders (I-VT).  They figure that since he started out as a socialist, the fact he got elected at all must mean the whole state is some weird socialist paradise.

On the contrary, it's a red-to-purple rural state with a blue metropolis (not entirely unlike PA, in some ways).  The reason Bernie has been so successful is precisely his progressive populism, and people really need to figure that out.  He's not a magical entity; he's just determined and knows how to sell his principles in a populist way.  Educated lefties like him for his progressive stands; low-info unaffiliateds get that he's fighting for the little guy.

And so, he won with 65% in a year that our Republican governor was affirmed by 56%.  Do the math and you see that was at least 21% of people voting for both of them!

We need more progressives like him who know how to talk to the people back home, and don't give a damn about the nonsense pundits and party bigwigs fuss over.

Tim Wolfe

A few glimmers of hope; but more radical transformation may be (0.00 / 0)
necessary to achieve populist goals.  I'm not sure that our present electoral system can be fixed.  Corporations and their paid lobbyists and attorneys may be too effective at finding seams and loopholes for corrective action to work.  Hope I'm wrong.

On the national level, I agree with the suggestions in the comments that Obama is neither a progressive nor a populist.  Evidence that economic populism is the greatest threat to the corporatist power structure can be found in the media's complicity in the destruction of Howard Dean in 2004, and Edwards in 2008 (pre-scandal) when the media did everything possible to under-cover that populist campaign.

Surely there's no chance of this populist campaign taking hold; but, the National Democracy Initiative would be a potential solution to the anti-populist structure of our political system.  Of course, nobody though the Best Party had a chance in the Reykjavic elections, either.

Great stuff, Lux (4.00 / 1)
You nail it down.  Bai and the others have their history wrong.  This analysis needs to get out there beyond Open Left.

The Wall St. Dems are scared to death of this.  That's why they fight it so hard.

Our side has a sort of informal project, and informal meme should we say, that economic populist Democrats can perform  better in "Red" states than "Blue Dogs".  They can give Republican bully-boys a fight, where centrists cannot.  

This has never been really put to the test.  The closest was this year in Pennsylvania when Sestak was a bit more populist than Specter.  I believe that the win of Sestak in PA scared the DLC types so much that they doubled down in Arkansas on Blanche Lincoln, because the thing that scared them most about Halter was not that he might lose but that he might WIN!  Had that happened this entire edifice of conventional "wisdom" that exists in the Beltway would have been overturned.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

"Bill Clinton, whose campaign manifesto was titled Putting People First, was full of old-school economic populism" (0.00 / 0)
in rhetoric, perhaps

meanwhile, NAFTA

also is starving Iraqi civilians to death a populist thing?

also if Dick Gephardt (the 90's Evan Bayh) is your idea of a populist (and you're a Washington insider) I fucking give up

you're on to something here, but you're framing it in an almost "let's take advantage of them" kind of way

if Democrats have any interest in really acting in the best interests of Americans (all Americans, not just the CEOs for whom they currently collect checks from), they should embrace Democratic Socialist values and legislate from the perspective of a party whose constituents are working people struggling to overcome corporate oppression

No he's not (4.00 / 2)
Mike is saying that populism is good politics. He wasn't making a point about policy, so there is nothing inconsistent here. For example, Dick Gephardt did run as a populist, and then became more like Evan Bayh.

But policy is not populist (and leftist), in part, because elites claim that it's bad politics.  Mike's point is that this is wrong - and it's fairly convincing.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
still feels a lot like the moral is to talk a good game (0.00 / 0)
so that the White Spy (Democrats) can score one over the Black Spy (Republicans) and inch ahead on the scoreboard

[ Parent ]
It may feel that way to you (0.00 / 0)
but it's not what he said.

Mike has a much higher opinion of Bill Clinton that I do, but I don't think that's relevant to this post.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
the last paragraph, and specifically the last sentence (0.00 / 0)
That's the center ground on which Democrats need to stand in this election year. They will lose corporate contributions as a result (it's not an accident that so many of the populist candidates discussed above were underfunded), but it's their one chance of identifying with the real pain and anger that people outside of DC are feeling. Reflecting that pain, reflecting that anger, and fighting for regular people is the way to win this year.

Whereas my feeling is, (and I'm sure Lux would disagree, as a DNC-er 4 lyfe), more important than winning is actually helping people once you're in office.

But what do I know, I never aided and abetted the administration of NAFTA, DOMA, and general triangulation.

[ Parent ]
Actually, you need to talk to talk a good game and play a good game (0.00 / 0)
But if you can't even talk a good game, you don't get to play at all.

Pretty basic stuff where I come from but your mileage may vary.

Seriously, Mike Lux is attacking the problem of a Democratic Party that increasingly can't even imagine another way forward than corporate kowtowing.

I know that you are all about starting fresh in a Democratic Socialist direction but if that's the case you'll also need to do a job of convincing very much like the one that Mike is engaged in, except you're starting from even further behind.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

[ Parent ]
"in rhetoric perhaps" (0.00 / 0)
Well, Duh!

What do you think Lux is trying to do here?  Boost Bill Clinton or debunk the idea that populism is a losing strategy?

In modern times, too, progressive populism has not been absent as a winning theme in our politics.
FDR ...
Harry Truman ...
LBJ and Sam Rayburn ...
Bill Clinton, whose campaign manifesto was titled Putting People First, was full of old-school economic populism ("helping those who work hard and play by the rules", "forcing the very wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, closing corporate tax loopholes...") and beat Paul "I'm not Santa Claus" Tsongas in the primary by emphasizing his support of Social Security and other government programs.

Try reading the first line in the paragraph.

Now of course, you have to deliver on rhetoric like and the fact that Clinton didn't is still killing Democrats.  But today's Dems are afraid even of the rhetoric.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

[ Parent ]
"What do you think Lux is trying to do here? Boost Bill Clinton" (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
I think you just don't like Mike Lux (4.00 / 1)
You can't be basing that on reading what he said.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

[ Parent ]
could it be both? (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Clinton (0.00 / 0)
Again, the point of my piece was the kind of campaigns they ran, not the way they acted once they were in office. Tester and Webb, for example, have disappointed me quite a bit since becoming senators, but they ran hard core populist campaigns. Bill Clinton was mixed as a President, certainly didn't do everything I wanted him to, but in '92 he ran and won on a mostly progressive populist platform.

[ Parent ]
Gephardt (0.00 / 0)
I was talking about the way people like Gephardt ran their campaigns, not how they operated in office, although to Dick's credit he always fought hard on trade and labor issues (even as he sucked on the Iraq war and others). Gephardt's 1988 campaign in the IA caucuses was as populist in its message as Jesse's was: trade, labor law reform, price supports and foreclosure moratoriums for small farmers, etc.

[ Parent ]
Travis (4.00 / 1)
you aren't really engaging the argument, and you know it.  Lux is making a good argument, and you are letting your Clinton hatred shine through so much that you cannot seem to even make an argument, just throwing up chatter to confuse, are you sure your not just trolling???

Lux's argument is "Democrats could win elections if they would pretend to be more populist" (0.00 / 0)
my argument is "put up or shut up"

there's lots of Democrats in office RIGHT NOW with no intention of doing a single fucking thing for working people- no need to give them advice on how to win- they already did that part- and yet at the end of the day the Democratic party is a gaggle of corporatist shills and AIPAC puppets with no intention if releasing their stranglehold from the American left

I mean, yeah, fuck Bill Clinton, but my disagreement stems far more from a desire to see a real leftist party in this country rather than a simple disdain for anyone who was a willing party to the triangulation of the American Dream

[ Parent ]
pretending to be populist (4.00 / 1)
Travis, my goal and ambition is a party that both talks and acts like progressive populists. You can choose not to believe that since I spent less than 3 years in a 30 year career working for a politician you don't like, but I believe in and have always fought for (from both the inside and outside) breaking up the big banks, empowering the labor movement and poor people, taxing the rich and investing more in the poor and middle class, and the broader progressive platform.
I doubt if you care, because you seem to enjoy trashing me without knowing anything important about me, but for whatever it's worth, I have spent 90% of my career as a community organizer, labor organizer, and consultant or board member to a wide variety of progressive groups. I agreed to work for Clinton in the '92 general because I thought he was better than Bush, and when I got asked to come inside the White House after we won, I did that so I could fight from the inside for progressive causes. I lost a lot of the time, but I won a few as well. And when it was clear that Clinton was moving more to the right (when he hired Mark Penn and Dick Morris in '95), I left.
Like I said, I doubt if you give a shit about all that Travis, but perhaps other readers might.  

[ Parent ]
thx for the Jackson comments (4.00 / 1)
Just wanted to say thanks, Mike, for correcting Bai's implications about the '88 Jackson campaign, which was, as you say, "pretty remarkable".
It was a campaign run by a former staffer to Dr. King, with no early money, running on "economic violence" and finding "common ground" (plus Jesse's energy, charisma, and speaking talent.  Yet we won 13 primaries & caucuses, and 1,218.5 delegate votes (the most for any runnerup ever, until Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign).
Jackson's campaign was populist, historic, and greatly exceeded expectations.

populism proability? (0.00 / 0)
"I don't think we have created enough of a spark yet, but I think the potential is clearly there for combustion."

Absolutely, and growing.

I think any other use of the term is, at best, only partly accurate.

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob..... FDR

Mike, I' ve been given your name as a contact to 'One Nation' group (0.00 / 1)
What this I see in the Washington Post about all us progressive all going to DC Oct 2nd?

"...The large-scale attempt at liberal unity, dubbed "One Nation," will try to revive themes that energized the progressive grassroots two years ago...The coalition's first goal is to plan a march to "demonstrate to Congress that these agenda items have support across multiple demographics," Jealous said. The demonstration, to be held Oct. 2, will center on pressing for more government spending on job creation..."

Who's stupid idea was this?

It's been decades since anyone that matter paid attention to a DC protest. We blow a key weekend in the campaign season a few weeks before election day. We spend big money we should be spending on campaigns flying tens of thousands of people to DC. For what result? Nobody pays any attention to protests in DC anymore. NOBODY.

Who is One Nation?

How did "One Nation" manage to walk out on to the political field of play, as it were, the first time and get profiled by the Washington Post?!? I never heard a word about any of this?

How does this "One Nation" group fall out if the sky and land speaking for all Progressives?


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