The Democrats Have Abandoned Populism


Salon justifiably takes a lot of flack around these parts for the many insane things they print, but this this piece by Bill Curry is worth a read as a damning indictment of the Democrats’ wholesale abandonment of populism in favor big business corporate donations. Some of Curry’s piece is rank with revisionist history that should be expected from a lifetime partisan Democrat but it is nonetheless interesting that Curry, at least, perceives that there’s only party that’s even engaging in a serious discussion amongst itself about the evils of crony capitalism, and it isn’t the Democrats:


In any case, Democrats are late to the populist dance. Mass protests of corrupt oligarchies have roiled global politics for a decade. In America the Tea Party has been crying crony capitalism since the Bush bailout and Obama stimulus. Income inequality’s so bad Mitt Romney wants to raise the minimum wage.

Even the Democrats’ tardy me-too-ism seems insincere, less a churning of policy than a freshening of message.  .  .

Meanwhile the populist revolt on the right persists. In 2010 the Tea Party declared open season on GOP incumbents. It has since bagged quite a few. But Republicans don’t just fight over offices, they fight over ideas. It’s hard to track all the players in their endless policy scrum: Heritage, American Enterprise, Focus on the Family, Club for Growth, etc. Rand Paul pilfers Democratic issues like a fox stealing chickens while dynasty star Jeb Bush grapples with such timeless questions as whether there can be such a thing as a conservative social program.

Democrats aren’t even having a debate. Their one think tank, the Center for American Progress, serves their establishment. (Its founder, John Podesta, once Clinton’s chief of staff, is now counselor to Obama.) The last real primary challenge to a Democratic senator was in 2006when Ned Lamont took on Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman. They say the GOP picks presidents based on seniority. Two years out, Republicans seem headed for a bloody knife fight while Hillary Clinton may be headed for the most decorous, seniority-based succession in either party’s history. (If she loses this time it will be to herself.)


It is no coincidence that in terms of fundraising, Democrats are now the party of Wall Street fat cats, CEOs, and the 1% of the 1% (as noted today in Bloomberg in connection with Nancy Pelosi’s virtually bottomless well of rich people to ask for donations for Democrats).

See, conservatives have always stood for level playing field for business and generally a less onerous regulatory environment in which entrepreneurship might grow. Private business is and always has been the engine of the American economy. But somewhere along the line, many businesses – especially the largest ones – came to demand not just a level playing field and fair regulatory environment but rather an active place at the government feeding trough. At that moment, when corporations lined up for money from TARP, then the Obama bailouts, then Stimulus pork, conservatives revolted against these policies and the politicians (including Republicans) who supported them. As offensive and ineffective as the Democrats’ welfare-for-individuals policies were, these welfare-for-enormous companies policies were even worse.

But the Democrats, while talking a big game about “income inequality” have done absolutely nothing to bring meaningful populist change that the country is clamoring for. Nor, as Curry notes, is anything likely to change soon on that front:

If Democrats had caught populist fever they’d be reappraising their own orthodoxy and offing a few of their own incumbents. Owing only partly to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, they instead spend their days as Republicans do, in an endless search for new ways to help the rich pump money into politics. As public alienation deepens, polls show Democrats generally content with their party’s leaders. Of such stuff revolutions are not made.


Make no mistake – the professional Democrat base enjoys being in power more than they actually do effecting change. No one – liberal or conservative – who hopes for sincere populist change in America should look to the Democrats or especially Hillary Clinton for answers. Whether the Republicans offer a meaningful alternative is yet to be seen.


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