Max Sawicky sawicky at epinet.org
Tue Oct 6 12:56:22 PDT 1998

>Well, I'm an elitist, internationalist kind of guy, who believes that we
have complicated socioeconomic systems that work poorly and should be replaced by something better (as soon as we can figure out what something better might be), but that in the meantime require careful management if they're not to bring us to immediate disaster.

And that mindset is hostile to at least some forms of "populism"--I don't especially want people voting directly on what the IMF quota should be, just as I don't especially want people voting on whether the state of California should run full-immersion or parallel-track bilingual education classes, or on how many civil rights immigrants have. . . . >

You're equating direct democracy with populism, but the connection is not necessary. The localist or participatory sort of populism is an artifact of the New Left, one of the more harmless ones all things considered.

The populists of the 1890's had a participatory type of cooperative enterprise, but to the best of my knowledge this did not carry over to their views of government operations except in the broad sense of a cooperative commonwealth (e.g., public ownership). You can go for this sort of thing without diminishing the input of experts.

< . . . I want to elect some people who have my social-democratic and liberal preferences, and then let them choose and listen to experts who know something about the IMF quota, or bilingual education, or the rule of law.
>But there is a kind of populism that doesn't rely on charismatic leaders to
rally the people against sinister enemies who have stolen the dream, isn't there? Isn't there?>

Charisma obviously helps in politics, but it need not displace mass awareness. In The Populist Persuasion Mike Kazin does find a pattern of rallying the deprived many against the privileged, self-aggrandizing few, but this is not incongenial to liberal or social-democratic thinking. After all, FDR had the "economic royalists." It may also be necessary simply as a minimal defense strategy. Think of how Dukakis' above-the-fray attitude helped to sink him against Bush's mudballs. You can't rely solely on the force of ideas when your opponent is saying you are a sonovabitch. Such terms of debate are implicitly stacked against you, since you fail to contradict the opposition's premise that you have no right to speak in the first place.

Another pattern Kazin finds is the harkening back to some kind of lost Arcadia. A time and place when things were set right, before the bad guys messed it up. This could clearly reflect a misplaced nostalgia for what never was, or it could be taken as a healthy identification with, as Richard Nixon said, what is right with America. I'm sure you would agree that there is plenty in our history to fortify such a view, which could be taken as a politically-crucial confidence in the ultimate rightness of the cause.


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