The Rising Populist Tide

The Rising Populist Tide

by John Kelley

I may be the only person in the country to believe that the dragged out fight for the presidential nomination is a great thing. For one, it signals a rising tide of populist sentiment unhappy with the Parties being controlled by party insiders and special interests. Certainly Barack Obama, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee all represented and represent a threat to the entrenched professional political hacks that control both parties. 

I hate to quote Donald Rumsfeld, but here it is more appropriate than when he used it to describe the looting in Baghdad, “Democracy is messy.” To me nothing could be better than an all out floor fight at the democratic convention for the nomination. Floor fights force the power structure to wield heavy clubs showing their non-democratic leanings. Dissident losers tend to not vote at all or look at other options.

Given the cummulative totals of Barack’s delegates and popular vote, the super delegates will split the party if they try to coronate Clinton over the wishes of populist democrats. Meanwhile the Republican power structure probably has an altar set up to ask God’s help in getting Hillary nominated as the Democratic Presidential Candidate.  If you haven’t noticed the Republican attack machine has focused almost exclusively on Obama. Not because they hate him, but because their only chance of maintaining the presidency is Hillary Clinton’s nomination.

What is most interesting is the split between party regulars and dissident elements joined by party newcomers that is evident on a local, state and national level. Here in Nueces County, most Democratic Party regulars supported Hillary, but they were forced to compromise on delegates and other issues by the enthusiastic and undeniable demand to participate in democracy. 

The local Republican Party faced similar issues with enthusiastic delegates challenging party regulars to follow democratic principles rather than conduct business as usual. Unfortunately local Republican leadership handed out delegates like party favors to loyal ideologues rather than including and expanding party participation and dialogue. A party that excludes new participants who don’t blindly follow the leadership turns people away, ages and dies, grasping at dwindling power over a shrinking party. Given the dissatisfaction with George W. Bush and corporate rule of the Republican Party, keeping out fresh faces and ideas will only speed that demise. The local rebels have vowed to carry their fight to the state convention.

There will be a fight at the State Democratic Convention as well. Sick of the control of the Austin consultacracy that refuses to invest in its own candidates for state wide races, the state Progressive Populist Caucus, Tejano Democrats and others have pledged to support former candidate for Texas Attorney General, David Van Os as permanent Convention Chair over State Chairman Boyd Richie. The fight started at the last convention in which Richie beat out two other candidates by last minute stacking of caucuses and other maneuvers, something progressives have pledged to insure doesn’t happen again.

These battles at every level have laid bare the weaknesses of the two party system. A system which has passed rules, laws and stuffed the power structure to keep not only third parties from coming into being, but also to handcuff voices for more democratic principles in their own parties. There is a tacit agreement between both parties to protect the system against the great, unrefined masses. A sad paternalism that reduces the actual participation in democracy to predetermined choices of party regulars, allowing no introduction of new candidates, paradigms or increases in bi-partisan policy advancement. The ideological divide is mostly about maintaining that control based on false wedge issues. 

What the populists in both parties are rejecting is the control party insiders, lobbyists and consultants have. What the controlling group in both parties fear most is they will lose their lucrative deals, support from mega-rich donors and the revolving door between special interests and government. Consistent polls show that strong majorities (60-86%) of voters favor such populist causes as universal healthcare, ending the war in Iraq, investing in public transportation, infrastructure, education and other issues that the neglect of is destroying faith in the American dream.

Class is exactly what most of these dissidents have in common. Most are people fed up with the empty promises of both parties while power, money and control have become concentrated in the hands of only the richest (the top 1% owns 50% of the wealth). Ideological wedge issues such as gun control, abortion, feminism, immigration are losing their power to sway people to vote against their own economic interests. 

Hillary Clinton and John McCain both recognize this and tout their supposed centrist philosophy, but both are just different management teams fighting over the prize of control rather than the common welfare of the nation. If either is elected the artificially promoted partisanship, designed to keep voters from recognizing any commonality in their interests, will continue.

While both parties have declared their rebels extremists, the truth is they have more in common with each other than with party regulars in either party.  Most are educated middle and working class people who are demanding a more open structure for democratic participation in party politics, a major change in the direction of the country and an end to special interest, profit-driven policies. 

As economic times worsen, the war goes on, people are denied healthcare, education and opportunity, this group will continue to grow and demand more. It’s not about right or left it’s about top and bottom, and the bottom is growing rapidly and getting lower. For the first time since the Great Depression, most Americans fear the world will offer their children less opportunity then they had. Right-wing propagandists like Rush Limbaugh are seeing more skepticism and rejection of their constant, shrill, “the sky is falling” (for all the wrong, manufactured reasons) rhetoric.

The greatest fear of both parties is that these folks will ignore ideology and work together for practical change either by forming a real centrist third party, taking over one or both current parties or becoming disillusioned with our limited democracy and take to the streets as their situations worsen. 

We have seen a rejection of what has been sold as democracy world wide. It has become more apparent as neo-liberal, global corporatization calling itself democracy. More people are becoming aware how it destroys personal freedom, economic stability, cultural legacies, environmental quality and political participation. Again and again we have seen the multinational, corporate-government partnership promise countries around the world freedom, wealth and advancement only to experience rejection in the form of terrorism (middle east), installation of populist strongmen (South and Central America) or state disintegration (Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Mexico).

In the end, wider participation may be uncomfortable and threaten the economic interests of party leaders, but the rejection of populist participation will lead to far worse. In a 1962 White House speech, President John F. Kennedy may have said it best, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”


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