The Rise of Populism in 2006

I have a question to ask, which is why people think Sherrod Brown is going to win? Or, why is Brown ahead on the polls by double-digits? Having worked on that campaign this cycle, I saw firsthand how different Sherrod Brown is in his progressive beliefs, in contrast to the status quo of the US Senate, epitomized by Mike DeWine. I believe it's the contrast that Brown has presented vs DeWine-- as the politician on the side of the middle class and standing with the people vs the politician that stands for the middle class getting the shaft as corporate profits soar. Brown has run an 88 county populist movement against the corporate middleist gang Mike DeWine belong's too. It's the winning ticket in Ohio, and possibly in Virginia too.

I was with Governor Mark Warner and Jim Webb traveling on The Crooked Road and the Blue Ridge Music Trail yesterday in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with some bluegrass music from Trent Wagler and the Steelwheels. A great crowd of 400 people showed up for the event.

What I was struck by was the strong chord of populism in Jim Webb's speech. His biggest applause line was, when talking about Fortune 500 companies, how 40 of them hadn't paid taxes last year-- how the corporations are not paying their fair share.

Is there a populist in the Senate right now? I think Wellstone was a populist; some might say Feingold, who is more of a maverick than anything else.

In the next US Senate, we have the potential to reshape the political dialogue across a lot of different degrees. Having a black man from the south as a Senator in Harold Ford, having a socialist from Vermont as a Senator in Bernie Sanders, and having a libertarian from Montana as a Senator in Jon Tester, all will broaden the Democrats Big Tent.

But it's the populist strain that aims to come to the US Senate that promises the most in terms of reshaping the agenda of this nation. Not only with Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Jim Webb in Virginia, but also with Ned Lamont in Connecticut. They are all figures that signal the rise of people-powered politics this decade, and the entrance into the US Senate of the popular will again.

Tags: Jim Webb, Ned Lamont, Sherrod Brown (all tags)



Playing the class card

Channeling Reagan: There you go again...pretending that we have a class structure in the US.

Never mind that decreasing the Estate Tax is explicitly a class-based appeal to the super-wealthy. Or that CAFTA is explicitly designed to benefit mobility of Capital, and restrict union organizing.

by MetaData 2006-10-27 09:53AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Tom Harkin is a genuine Populist in the Senate.  His first election was born out of the 1980's Farm Crisis.  His presidential campaign in 1992 was Trumanesque.  He was asked by the Wellstone Family to deliver the keynote speech at the Wellstone memorial (BTW, it was the most powerful speech I have ever heard).

Traditionally, populism could be defined by a charasmatic, progressive leader who passionately advocates on behalf of Democrats, Farmers and Labor (thus, the Minnesota DFL).  Add to that middle-class voters who no longer identify with Democrats, Farmers or Labor (though their parents or grandparents may have), and you have a modern populist.  Harkin could certainly use a few more peers who fit this description in the Senate.

by Nate Willems 2006-10-27 09:55AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Harkin is about the only thing close to a populist in the Senate at present.

by robliberal 2006-10-27 10:44AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

I'd say it's "people-ism" this time around, not "populism."

by Jeffrey Feldman 2006-10-27 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006


by Robert P 2006-10-27 10:28AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

I'm not sure why Jerome is backing away from his own term "people powered" in favor of the much less accurate "populism."  Lou Dobbs is a populist.  It's a political  ideology based on so-called common sense and economic issues.  

The movement we are seeing in this country right now is not, in my view, populism.  It is a renewed fascination with political  participation, but the classical formula of American populism isn't there.  This time it's a values and principles movement combined with an appeal against ideology, but which does not seem to break the electorate down in terms of popular vs. elite.  

It's a movement, alright, but just taking shape and seems to have roots in a long host of Progressive ideas that are taking new shape in a media-driven environment.  

That's my sense.  Sorry about the cryptic first comment.

by Jeffrey Feldman 2006-10-27 11:44AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Thank you for the thoughtful response - not something we always get on blogs.

by Robert P 2006-10-29 03:52AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Sherrod Brown is going to win because he is a coreless, ruthless politician who would support repeal of the Thirteenth Amendment if it polled well.

Brown recently voted FOR the so called Detainee Interrogation Act which gives the go ahead to the use of torture and provides for the suspension of habeas corpus. Jerome is going to tell you suckers Brown voted for the Act because of all the good he wants to do for you once he's a member of the Senate. Save it for your ditto heads Jerome, most of us aren't buying the Kool-aid you Townhouse Google Groupies are brewing.

"The rise of populism" - what a joke.

by CMike 2006-10-27 10:03AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Meowr. Bitter much?

by Ugluks Flea 2006-10-27 10:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

yes, he really, really disappointed me on that vote. ouch.

by colorless green ideas 2006-10-27 12:01PM | 0 recs
Brown is genuine

Brown has a genuine history in the House of standing against things like NAFTA.

Where Dems have made big gains... Tester, Brown... are where we have candidates w/a genuine populist appeal.

by jgkojak 2006-10-27 10:10AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

That's an interesting idea Jeff. Not sure if I agree but ready to be convinced. Is that cause you think the populism "brand" sounds dated or socialist  to people or something?

Sherrod's voting record matches his rhetoric - he earned a perfect score on DMI's Middle Class Congressional Scorecard

Here's  Brown's grade

by DMIer 2006-10-27 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

It's actually Lou Dobbs who keeeps me away from the word 'populist.'  I think he may wear the populist mantle more than anyone else these days.  Also, I really believe that what we are seeing this cycle is something new--and while populism was fueled to some extent by newspapers and radio, I think this 'people powered' stuff is distinct.  We'll see I guess.  It's definitely an interesting topic, though.  I'm glad Jerome brought it up.

by Jeffrey Feldman 2006-10-27 02:56PM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Lou Dobbs is a great model.  He supports the middle class.  He doesn't trash labor really.  He talks about the disparity in wealth in the country.  He disparages the Democrats for being ineffective, but is he wrong?

On immigration, he is right about how corporate interest exploit immigrants.  Paying fair wages to Americans would only increase prices very moderately, and there would more Americans able to buy more products.  He is xenophobic a bit and doesn't address what we do with 12 million illegal aliens currently living in the US.  So his crusade isn't perfect, but still it is a model to modify and build on.

by edonyoung 2006-10-28 06:10AM | 0 recs
The Danger Of Populism

Populism has a dark side, too, though--which is the exclusion of certain groups from "the people."  It's important to remember how populism briefly united black and white sharecroppers in the South around the turn of the last century, only to swiftly degenerate and feed into the resurgence of the KKK.

Doesn't mean we shouldn't welcome a resurgence of populist sentiment.  It just means we need to put a lot of attention into being intentionally inclusive.  One way of doing this is by stressing how differences have been used to divide us in the past, differences such as Protestant vs. Catholic that virtually no one considers politically important today.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-10-27 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

I wonder if we could really call Tester a libertarian if he's against gay marriage.

I'm not trying to start shit, because I think Tester rocks, but facts is facts--that's a socially conservative stance, not a libertarian one.

by HellofaSandwich 2006-10-27 10:15AM | 0 recs
Jon Tester doesn't want to amend the Constitution
...on that issue: 06/08/newsstate_top/20060608_newsstate_t op.txt "Tester also said he'll gladly tell people his position on the issues brought up by Burns Tuesday night -- although Tester said those aren't issues he hears people talking about. He said he opposes a U.S. constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Montana already bans gay marriage, and the federal constitution doesn't need to be amended to discriminate against people, he said."
by Eric Jaffa 2006-10-27 10:44AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Can I just make sure we remember the obvious.  The Republican party is in melt down in Ohio, in the context of a near meltdown nationally.  Not to take anything away from Sherrod Brown, but its hard to gauge the effectiveness of his message against the roar of the background noise.

by RickM 2006-10-27 10:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Bernie is the most populist politician I've ever seen in a national office. That's why he wins so handily in VT. It's not his "socialist" beliefs that gets him so much support from farmers and veterans and the rest ... it's his proud and vocal populism. And he's tireless. If the only change in the Senate this cycle was exchanging Jeffords for Bernie, that would still make the Senate a different place. I love Bernie, as do so many Vermonters.

Harold Ford, I fear, will not be reinventing any political dialogue, though. I'm rooting for him because he's better than Corker by a mile, and as a former Southerner, I really want Tennessee to repudiate the racist slime of the RNC and Corker. But ... the man will be far from my favorite Senator.

btw, is the Michael Powell working for Ford the same one who led the FCC (Colin's son)? I have a hard time believing that to be true, but thought I'd ask ...

by BriVT 2006-10-27 10:24AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Yeah, I don't know that I see a lot of common strains between, say, Sanders and Ford.

I don't know enough about Tester to know what page he'll sing from, but I'm not too sure it's gonna be Brown's or Sanders'.

This is kind of a scattershot group to be putting under the same umbrella. Policy-wise, anyway. Which might actually not have been the point, now that I reflect on it.

by Kagro X 2006-10-27 10:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Harold Ford comes from a conservative part of the country, so he needs to meet certain thresholds to be competitive.  Democrats have to recognize this and work to reconcile differences in social issues, but not take sides which immediately polarizes the country.

However Ford stands up for the middle class and this is the single most important thing that Democrats should stand for.  By building the middle class, you reduce poverty and juice the economy.

by edonyoung 2006-10-28 06:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Bush gave the rich their tax cuts and slashed regulations in the first term.

Then, in the second, he did a lot of stuff that more directly affects consumers: the anti-bankruptcy bill, anti-lawsuit measures, the Medicare drug plan, which just a giveaway to the pharma companies...

Must say, once he started that, I was sort of waiting for people to start catching on.

I guess the gas prices, housing values falling and inflation has also helped.

Anyway, it's been awhile, but it might be happening.

by Bush Bites 2006-10-27 10:25AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

So was Thomas Frank right after all?

by nanoboy 2006-10-27 10:26AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

I disagree with the populism thesis with respect to Brown and Ford. This election is mostly a referendum on Bush/Cheney and Iraq and the rubber-stamp Repub congress.

Brown has voted with progressives mostly, however, he is another triangulator who will blow with the wind as we saw with his affirmative vote on torture and eliminating habeas corpus. He did not need to vote that way but his judgement was that DeWine would use that against him in the campaign and not how we could use the issue to paint DeWine as a rubber-stamp extremist. Ford is a complete panderer to wingnut positions and of course the excuse is he needs to be a gay basher to win the south. My attitude is that is poppycock.

IMO, the Dems still suffer from their continuous electoral defeats over the last few election cycles. They have calculated that they need to be more close to the Repub positions as the Repubs have been successful. Just this spring, Emmanuel and Schumer did not want to run the fall campaign on Iraq and national security.

The change at the margin that I see are candidates like Tester and Webb, who are not afraid to campaign on principles and know how to frame issues that show the Repubs as radical and extremist. They are not in the classic DC weather vane mold. Additionally they won their primary against the DC establishment anointed candidate tapping into the vein of change. They are bringing in elements of populism - drawing contrast between the sacrifices of the working class vs the incredible financial benefits of the top 1% and the largest corporations. I'd like to see more support for candidates like Webb and Tester in the primaries than Ford and Casey and Brown.

by ab initio 2006-10-27 10:27AM | 0 recs
All politics is local

It's the implosion of the Ohio Republican party

The continued high unemployment in the state, plus coingate, Taft pleading guilty, and the war continuing to hit small town america.

Notice that the GOP is also blowing up in Indiana, where the state party is doing poorly as well.

by niq 2006-10-27 10:28AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

CMike is just another purist who can't accept compromise.

Sherrod Brown is a real progressive populist.  Russ Feingold and Ned Lamont seem more like just goo-goo progressives.  

If you want to see a progressive-populist coalition rise again, support John Edwards.  But I bet CMike will remind us that he voted for the war.  So what.

Edwards is the only presidential candidate that makes the populist message a regular part of his spiel.  Edwards is dedicated to economic populism, he draws a lot of people outside the Democratic base, but gets them by speaking in a very traditionally Democratic way.  I think that if Edwards is nominated in 2008, we will see a solid realignment occur.
I think he will have long coattails, he'll help Democrats who pick up marginal seats this year and help us take more next time around.  I could be wrong, but I know from focus groups I've seen that Edwards came off much better than Kerry in 2004, particularly among conservatives, many of whom preferred him over Bush.
What other candidate could do the same?

by jallen 2006-10-27 10:31AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

I have trouble seeing Sherrod as a progressive populist when he voted for the torture & anti-habeas corpus bill. That's just not very progressive or populist.

I have even more trouble trying to conjure a reality where Brown is more "real" in his progressive stances than Feingold.

I have no axe to grind regarding Brown. I am very for him. But your view of Sherrod Brown is, um, rosy (perhaps?). I still hope he crushes DeWine.

Btw, I think Edwards is a fine Democrat.

by KB 2006-10-27 10:48AM | 0 recs
Rejection of Bush and Republicanism in 2006

This election is not about Democrats.  It is about the complete failure of Bush and the Republican Congress. Republicans are being rejected.

The only thing rising is a mob of angry voters to run the neo con men out of town.

by FishOutofWater 2006-10-27 10:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Add Bob Casey to your list
Like his dad, Bob Casey is also a strong economic
by phillydem 2006-10-27 10:40AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

I think it's important to define populism. Populism is not really a political ideology, like Marxism or syndicalism, but rather more of a methodology. Populism is an appeal to the "common folks" and can take on left wing or right-wing characteristics (though it takes into account the idea of public virtue and sacrifice, it's make-up is predicated on the definition of virtue, Gandhi's definition being quite a bit different than, say, Pol Pot's).  

The racist appeals in Tennessee are a form of right-wing populism; the body armor ad by the veteran's group is a good example of the left-wing variety.

I only bring this up because I believe there are plenty of populists in the senate -- only they're people like George Allen, those who appeal to the baser, and more irrational instincts of society.

On the other side, I think Bernie Sanders will certainly be s strong progressive populist, and I agree with region5 that Harkin displays some progressive populist tendencies -- though not as often as we'd like.

And yes, I'm aware there was (is?) a Populist party. I'm talking small "p" in this instance.

by Tod Westlake 2006-10-27 10:46AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Wikipedia says:

"Populism is a political philosophy or rhetorical style that holds that the common person's interests are oppressed or hindered by the elite in society, and that the instruments of the state need to be grasped from this self-serving elite and used for the benefit and advancement of the people as a whole."

I think it's great the Dems focus on stuff like fair trade, keeping jobs here, Bush's tax cuts for the rich while the deficit grows, etc.

That is the way to get to the demographic that has drifted toward the GOP, even though the GOP doesn't represent their economic interests.

by mightymouse 2006-10-27 11:18AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006
One entry found for populist.
Main Entry: 1pop·u·list
Pronunciation: 'pä-py&-list
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin populus the people
1 : a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people; especially often capitalized : a member of a United States political party formed in 1891 primarily to represent agrarian interests and to advocate the free coinage of silver and government control of monopolies
2 : a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people
  • pop·u·lism -"li-z&m noun
  • pop·u·lis·tic "pä-py&-'lis-tik adjective
by Tod Westlake 2006-10-27 02:03PM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

As a (mostly) life-long Iowan, I agree that Harkin fits the traditional definition of a populist.  I saw Harkin and Kerry hold a field hearing on cancer research at the University of Iowa a few months ago, and Kerry had this to say about Harkin:

"Sen. Harkin and I came to the Senate together in 1984 - number 99 and number 100 in seniority then. Tom and I were both great admirers of our late colleague, Paul Wellstone, who we always thought of as the conscience of our caucus. Sen. Harkin remains true to Paul's ideals, and it's Tom - always pushing, always fighting -- who is the conscience of the Senate today when it comes so many issues that matter to peoples' lives and their well-being, none more so than his commitment to increasing funding for cancer research." m?id=261501

Having said that, I'm afraid that for most of my life populism has been little more than a rhetorical device for most candidates, and I'd include Bill Clinton in that.  He talked like a populist but he didn't govern like one.

It seems to me, whenever Democrats get a chance to govern again, that we ought to spend some time governing before we start talking about ideology and rhetoric.  Pull the Middle-east back from the brink.  Close the Medicare prescription drug donut hole.  Fill some potholes.  Open the windows on our government and let some sunshine in.

We don't need to start taking ideological terroritory or even staking it out.  What we need to do is govern well, or even passably well.  Then maybe we can all get together behind a big-ticket issue (renewable fuels?) and shove.

by MarkB 2006-10-27 11:52AM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

From Mustang:

"The question that Jerome asked has to do with winning and why Congressman Brown is ahead in the polls."

Good point.  Not being from Ohio I figured I didn't really know that much about it, but here's my two cents.

Ohio has been the epicenter of an ongoing political scandal the scope of which I still find hard to believe.  Remember Coingate?  Seems like a decade ago, doesn't it?  The number of corrupt Republican politicians in Ohio is hard to grasp, and I think two solid years of corruption -- which Brown was able to home in on and stay focused on the entire time -- has taken it's toll.  Voters in Ohio want change, and Sherrod Brown is change.

by MarkB 2006-10-27 12:21PM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

The question that Jerome asked has to do with winning and why Congressman Brown is ahead in the polls.  The Congressman grew up in Mansfield, served in Columbus, now lives in Avon and has over 30 years of public service in Ohio, has won statewide campaigns and throughout his career has helped out lots and lots of folks in all 5 regions that make up Ohio, has put together an effective 88 county organization and raised the money necessary to mount an effective campaign.   Having the support of past and present Labor members does help very much.  Of course the Ohio Republicans self inflicted wounds appear to be fatal from which they  do not appear to be able to recover before EDay
I am volunteering my time in Virginia for the Webb for Senate campaign, and things keep getting more interesting by the day.

The last truly populist candidate I helped would have to have been the late great Governor of Florida, the Honorable Lawton Chiles..  

by mustang 2006-10-27 12:13PM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Shout outs to Trent Wagler and the Steelwheels!  I was hanging out with Trent in West-Virginia last week-end and he mentioned he was doing a gig for webb.  Its great to see that on the front page of my fav. blog.  

GO VA Democrats!

by JBishop 2006-10-27 01:05PM | 0 recs
Re: The Rise of Populism in 2006

Populism as a concept has taken on so many meanings in political circles that it's pretty much in the eye of the beholder anymore.  Recently I hear it applied more frequently to candidates who are, on superficial levels, down-to-earth and blue collar (like Jon Tester or Brian Schweitzer, both of whom share a lot in common with the average Joe).  It used to mean a belief that one's fellow common men were being opressed by the power of an elite few.

I think Nunnberg makes a good case in his book "Talking Right" that the conservative movement in it's modern carnation has, in the historical sense of the word, become much more populist than the modern Democratic party (rallying against activist judges, the media elite and Massachusettes liberals and portraying right-wing Christians as downtrodden and oppressed).  

by Ryan Anderson 2006-10-27 10:21PM | 0 recs


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