Populism is about people. The Latin word for “the people” is populus. So a Populist is one who has concern for the People. Historically American Populism has been a political philosophy that had to do with the struggle of the average worker or farmer against those powerful forces in society that had gained control of production, transportation, finance, politics or the system of justice.
Early on, politicians like William Jennings Bryan and Robert LaFollette and certainly Teddy Roosevelt were Populists. TR was nominally a Republican whose actions were predominantly people-focused, and who ran on an independent Bull Moose Party in 1912 that was largely about reform and Populist ideas after the Republican Party rejected him.
To some degree the billionaire Ross Perot was a populist. While still a private citizen, he recognized the need for high school students in Texas to focus on education first and sports second. Later as a Presidential candidate he warned of the danger of looming national debt and the inequality of certain trade programs like NAFTA to American workers and small businesses
What is populism today? If it is a concern for the People, then it is primarily Democratic as opposed to Republican.
For example, if you are for health care reform, adding 31 million people to the health care rolls, then you are a Populist. You support legislation that helps the great mass of Americans. You are Populist, for the People. The Democratic Party as soon as its Presidential candidate became President began working on legislation to improve health care for the People, to enable all Americans to have health care. The Republicans, working with the health insurance industry, at first rejected any health care plan at all, then tried to modify the Democratic Plan to make it unworkable, then wanted to stop it altogether and “start over.”
So does that mean that Democrats are Populists and Republicans are Corporatists?
The answer is definitely, yes…with some modifications. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln or Senator Ben Nelson tried to hold up health care reform legislation. Is Senator Max Baucus a Populist? No. He had a chance to force the issue of health care reform in the middle of last year, 2009. But he did not. He knew…he must have, if the rest of us knew, and we did…that Senator Charles Grassley was a snake in the grass.
How many times does a Senator come out against “death panels” that Grassley, knowing the facts, had to have fabricated in his own mind? How could he, knowing that it was not true, say, absurdly, that the Democrats want to “kill grandma?” He was on the committee writing the legislation. He knew that what he was saying was a lie.
Grassley is clearly not with the farmers, not with the workers. He is with the corporations, with the big insurance corporations in Des Moines and Hartford, Connecticut and with his buddies George W. Bush and Dick Cheney whom he supported like a pathetic lapdog from 2001-2008. He knew the facts yet he lied to support the position of the large health insurance corporations and against the People.
When a member of Congress votes to cut taxes for the wealthy, knowing that the American Budget has already fallen back into deficit, when we are involved in two wars, one which we, the United States, basically started, then that Congress person is not working for the people. Every single Republican Senator voted for both Bush tax cuts in the 2001-2004, period. Those actions added about $3 trillion to the budget. The only people materially affected by the tax cuts were the top 1% of the country who received massive reductions in taxes. The People’s government received massive reductions in revenues.
Tea party members distort the truth about health care. For example, it is not a “government takeover” in the remotest possible sense. It is influenced by the fact that the President has been trying, wasting time in fact, to be more bi-partisan. So the bill is much less influenced by government than it should be. In fact, it is a far, far less Populist piece of legislation than it should be.
Now we have financial reform. The Republican leader of the House of Representatives and the Republican leader of the Senate, came up to Wall Street from Washington to assure the large financial institutions whom they, the Senate and House had voted to bail out to the tune of $700 billion of the People’s money, that these financial institutions did not have to worry about regulations. They didn’t have to worry about regulations that would prevent another Recession from happening. Didn’t have to worry that they would be prevented from causing the loss of another 8 million jobs in one year.
The Democrats, taking the Populist stand, said no way. These financial institutions will be regulated. Banks are not gambling casinos. Investment firms entrusted with the pension funds and 401k funds of American taxpayers will not be used for speculation. And they have already come up with legislation…once again, not as Populist as most of us would like…not strong enough…but too strong for the Republicans.
So what did the Republicans do? Rather than saying that they don’t want any regulation on financial firms at all…which is what the House Minority Leader promised the Wall Street firms when he was there ( “don’t be intimidated by any of these House punk staffers”) they lied about the bill. They say that it will involve huge government bail outs once again.
Well, it won’t. The legislation will, first of all, make it much tougher for these firms to speculate with depositors’ money. They can find investors who may want to risk their money, but the legislation will make the investment firms be quite clear about the transactions so that investors will know for sure what they are buying.
But the banking portion of the investment business, which now is combined in the same firms with the speculative part, will be much more controlled. And the banking firms themselves will put up $50 billion as an initial fund, not to bail out banks but to see to the orderly liquidation of banks who somehow find away around the regulations or for some legitimate reason must cease operation. The Republicans still say that the government will bail out the big banks. Obviously, you have just read that it won’t and even the banking industry itself will not. So, for their corporate friends…Neocons lie again.
Rank and file Republicans, perhaps because they oppose a black President or because they have been sold a bill of goods by their Party, have become corporatists, not Populists. They may be dupes, but they are definitely not populists, that is, people working for other people. They are either working for themselves in a selfish way, or working for Neoconservatives because they willingly support a Party that supports corporations. Remember that 90% of Americans are employed. Over half of those are in reasonably good jobs. That is a lot of people, and many of those people are perfectly happy as they are.
Today, in order to be a Republican one must be a Neoconservative. What is a Neoconservative, i.e., a Neocon? A Neocon is a person dedicated to the reduction in freedom. Yes, you do see signs on the tea party members stating that they are for “freedom” and complain that they are losing their “freedom.” But they are not. If you notice, they did not begin to complain about loss of “freedom” or about getting their country back until an African-American President was elected.
Most of all tea party members (77% of whom, when surveyed say that they are Republican) and the Neocon hard liners and the plain old Republicans all work for the same group…large, powerful and wealthy corporations. Many of these corporations today literally earn billions of dollars for their stockholders who, for the most part, are already very wealthy individuals. EXXON made over $40 billion profit in one year. That is more than the gross national product of many small countries. Moreover, 60% of equity in U.S. corporations is owned by the top 1% of the population. So don’t cheer for the People when EXXON makes money. They paid zero taxes on that $40 billion. Zero. And right now you are paying $3.50 per gallon for gas.
The large corporations still employ a great many Americans. But they essentially pay no taxes. So they earn money in the United States, take up space, use the roads, the airports, the seaports, have the protection of American Military, American Diplomacy, and the American Infrastructure, including American universities, libraries, public spaces and health facilities. So their value to the U.S. is chiefly through their employment of Americans and their occasional philanthropic and charitable contributions.
The problem with these corporations is that they not only employ fewer and fewer Americans, but they manufacture more and more products abroad. When they grow, they grow overseas. So why can’t we make them employ Americans, make a little less for that top 1% that owns about 63% of all major corporations? Two words: Republican Obstruction. The Republicans can and do block every piece of progressive, (Populist) legislation with their Senate filibuster techniques. Right now, over 70 pieces of legislation for the people, passed in the House of Representatives are blocked in the Senate.
When corporations import their products into the U.S. without duties, they cause a greater and greater imbalance in trade which damages the economy. The large corporations look to increased advantages from the U.S. government while reducing their participation in our society…jobs and taxes. The Republican Party, its elected officials, its Right Wing groups, its Fox News Network, its hundreds of Right Wing radio propagandists, its FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity tea party organizers, and its Christian Fundamentalists, waiting for Jesus—all of them do whatever they can to continue the domination of international corporations and large financial institutions on American life.
Democrats are not blameless. But the only opportunity for the American People to regain control of this country before it is too late is to join, rather than criticize, Democrats and push that Party further to the Left. The Neocons are already talking about changing the social safety network of this country as soon as they take power, which they think will be this fall. You can see how, even out of power, they have obstructed real progressive legislation.
Now the Supreme Court has dealt Democracy one very serious blow, perhaps even a final blow, one that not even Bush and Cheney’s bankrupting the country could not achieve. When the enormous resources, potentially money in the trillions, is infused directly into political campaigns, corporations will be able to literally buy their own Senators and Congressmen. Yes, they do so today, but now the price just went up. People with no scruples at all will be the candidates of choice for the corporations.