Towards a New Populism for the United States

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Everything hardens in the cold–butter, plastic, even skin. In a system begun 233 years ago with the urge to be free of oppression and to create a system of government that would eliminate the possibility of oppression, the politics of administering such a system were fluid. Those systems have now hardened into two opposing philosophies of politics. One system maintains that we should take our hands off the wheel and our foot off the brakes and allow society to run itself. The opposite point of view says that we can make society function better for the average man by applying some controls.

These positions have grown from modifications of the two strongest political organizations, not from the needs of society. The leaders of these parties have applied the philosophies of their leaders. The philosophies were never developed from the collective wisdom of the people. No one asked citizens what they wanted, without filters, and without biased questioners and interpreted answers.

A former gentleman-farmer from upstate New York, a patrician, a solid member of the noblesse oblige establishment, thrust into a cataclysmic economic situation as the leader made up rules as he went along, coping with one crisis at a time. He created politics for his time by determining what would solve each problem and then applying tactics to solve that problem, combining each one with another until he had a strategy to cope with an American society in virtual collapse. Those cobbled-together rules, albeit by the best minds of the time–he called on everyone to do their duty and they did–became the politics of one political party, an approach to governing that would endure for over 40 years.

A former motion picture actor, a president of an motion picture guild, a devotee of the former president later turned to politics. He was from the heart of the country, from a family that believed in the policies of the former president, and as a patriotic American he worked for others in many ways with a generosity of spirit. At a point, his life changed. He was divorced, remarried, found a new career in television and a more serious attitude towards politics.

He began to listen to those who said that the ways of the old president had been outmoded by changes in society. Taxes were too high and there were too many regulations. This was stifling society. The people of the United States needed more freedom, not from oppression, but from regulations that inhibited their freedom to grow and create. This politics said that the greatest gift the United States had given its people was the opportunity of free expression in work, in religion, in living an independent life.

The politics of the old President, President Roosevelt, became known as Liberal politics. The politics of the new President, President Reagan became known as Neoconservative politics. This latter movement, the extremes of the politics, was incorporated into the old Republican Party.

The Liberals and the Neo-Republicans quickly moved to the opposite ends of the political spectrum. The Liberals sought a strong federal government where nationwide programs could be implemented efficiently. The Neo-Republicans sought to gain office merely to eliminate as many programs as they felt interfered with the free flow of enterprise, on which, they felt, everything rested. Without free enterprise, there would be no businesses, no jobs and no American lifestyle.

One would say, quickly looking at these two opposing points of view that the solution for which system to use is quite simple. Take some of the best from one and some of the best from the other and apply them to the administration of a national government. In other words, the best of both possible worlds. This is, of course, the best way to govern, using the most practical method of administering each segment of government, both protecting the public with regulations while insuring that enterprise flowed freely. There will be the inevitable conflict in every area of governing. But the people must decide the balance because the people have the freedom to choose and the will of the majority is the operating principle of a well-managed free society.

But this has not happened. Several things interfered. The first thing is that the scope of issues require that many issues on which there is a point of view must be fitted into one or the other of the two political parties. We have created two political parties when there should be three or perhaps five or six. People who are interested in a clean environment, and food divested of chemical fertilizers may also be people who do not want to see restrictions on weapons. People who are interested in controlling handguns in the cities may be the same people who want to advance small business interests. Large corporations may have interests that make them less interested in issues like abortion, but they may have serious interests in seeing that public health care removes some of the burdens of keeping their employees healthy.

So why have we not created more political parties? We have not because as positions hardened, year after year, generation after generation, the two political parties, became public charities. They required endowments and unlike universities, their positions towards the handling of societal problems became the rationale for soliciting those donations. In order to attract more donations, positions were adjusted to the needs of the donors rather than to those of society.

Soon the publicly stated politics of the two political parties had little to do with their ultimate positions, but more often than not masqued their positions. In order to continue to raise money, in order to compete for attention and votes from the people, they were required to tell the people what the people wanted to hear, because that was their charge from their own constituents, but they also had the need to carry out the will of those who maintained the organizations.

Beginning in 2006 and more prominently in 2008, the elections of representatives from both parties, but much more dominantly in one, were influenced by new technology that allowed individual citizens to relate directly to the candidates. The system still functioned withing the two-party system. But it became clear to many people that the representatives, including the President would eventually be more beholden directly to their supporters and those supporters would be much larger numbers of individuals and fewer numbers of large donors.

This is in its infancy, just now taking the smallest of baby steps towards an integral part of political life. But as interaction between people flows more easily and organizational procedures begin to attach themselves to the means of communicating, a highly interactive system, the potential for a return of government and the addition of new parties, new assemblies of voters around the ideas that more closely identify their positions, will be facilitated.

What might be referred to as a New Populism would allow nothing but compromise, the eventual will of the People, the best approach to each situation, to be legislated. This will cause enormous angst among the very large controlling interests behind what are now the two political parties. They will not be able to control the power of a popular leader, because they cannot interrupt the flow of communication. We have seen that in Iran recently. Technology has overwhelmed secrecy, at least for the time being. If it lasts long enough, those leaders who ascend because of the freedom of information will reinforce the idea that it must remain. Their tenure is dependent upon it.

On this 4th of July 2009, we face daunting problems. But we also now understand that we have the means to change society. Each of us now has the means to influence, with a blog,like this one, or a series of mailings to others or to leaders or to attempt to change the opinions of those with whom they disagree. It is a time when it will no longer be necessary to join one of two political parties. Each person will reach out and eventually those whose ideas are the strongest, make the most sense, will attract others to new political parties. And that will be the New Populism. Not a party, but a movement with many parties.