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Ordinary People

February 9, 2010

While we’re here, I figured I should address this piece from Peter Beinart about how the Tea Partiers aren’t populists:

For the original Populists, government action was the best way to empower ordinary folks, but only if those ordinary folks actually ran the government. That’s why at the same time the Populists tried to strengthen government they also tried to democratize it, by championing the direct election of senators and other reforms. In practice, the Populists were often fervently anti-Washington because Washington was controlled by the privileged few. But their anger at Washington and their anger at Wall Street were different. They believed Washington could represent the people in a way Wall Street never could. They cursed Wall Street because it was too powerful. They cursed Washington because it wasn’t powerful enough.


By privileged few, in fact, the Tea Party crowd means government. The ordinary folks are the voters and the privileged few are the people who run Washington in disregard of their wishes. For the original Populists, the answer to this problem was more democracy: reforms that made Washington more responsive to voters and less responsive to moneyed interests. But the Tea Partiers have no interest in such reforms. They simply take it as a fact that Washington is unresponsive and self-interested. While the Populists wanted to empower government as they democratized it, the Tea Partiers want to disempower government because they don’t believe it can be democratized. And by disempowering government—by reducing its oversight of Wall Street, as Palin demanded at the Tea Party convention—the Tea Partiers actually strengthen the very moneyed interests that the Populists wanted to restrain.

Uh, okay.  What’s your point, Pete?

The Tea Partiers, in other words, have flipped Populism on its head. They’re less Populists than anti-Populists. It’s time the media called them by their rightful name.

Well, that’s important.  Apparently populism can only exist on one side of the political spectrum in this country.  I guess that means that ordinary people are all liberals.  Logically following, that means that ordinary people aren’t representing their own interests by advocating smaller government that spends less (Not that it’s their money that Congress is spending or anything—those are real “moneyed interests”).  The only way they can do that is to bitch to their representatives that they themselves aren’t doing enough to fight Corporate America.  You know, since Washington is squeaky clean and “moneyed interests” are the only reason it’s dirty.  And Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson took their deals at the behest of “moneyed interests” rather than voters.  What a crock.

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