Back in school I recall the word Populism showing up in my Social Studies text book. I didn’t know what populism was then, and I’ve not thought a lot about populism since— until recently. With the
I feel it might be helpful to examine the term POPULISM again. Consider this quote:
Angry right-wing populism lurks just below the surface of the terrible American economy, ready to be launched not only at Obama but also at liberals, intellectuals, gays, blacks, Jews, the mainstream media, coastal elites, crypto socialists, and any other potential target of paranoid opportunity. SOURCE: Newsbusters
When we hear the word populism what is usually meant would be something like this: Populism is the feelings and opinions of the masses versus the actions and opinions of the elites. The point of the Newsbuster quote is that populism is a uprising opinion movement among regular ole everyday citizens and it can take on the form of democracy, but it can also take on racist views, fascist views, or any other extremist view.
The truth is that populism is not a political mind-set it is a guttural reaction to current events, similar to the stomach’s reaction to spoiled milk. Sometimes, the news just makes us want to throw up.
Back in the 1980s I read a book called THE 100TH MONKEY. The book started off describing how scientists observed monkey’s isolated on various islands, and how one of them learned to plunge a stick into a termite mound and when they pulled it out they could eat the termites clinging to the stick. This was a use of tools by a primitive primate. One monkey would teach the other monkey’s around them to learn this termite tool trick. Then scientists noticed something unusual. When the number of termite stick tool users reached 100, suddenly the monkeys on other islands just knew how to use a stick to catch termites. The monkeys on other islands, monkeys never exposed to the tool teacher monkey, just knew the trick.
The point of the story and the point of the book was that if you know somethings, or do something important, and you teach two people, and they teach two people, and so on, and so forth, that eventually, when the number of people doing or believing something reaches a critical mass, well, then suddenly the view, the action, the opinion will spread wildly through the population.
In a sense, this is populism. Populism is not the view, it is the spread of a view. Populism is not the content of the movement, it is just a word that describes a movement.
The current angst over
When the sh@# (crap) hits the fan, it isn’t evenly distributed!
Populism is not the same thing as popular, but it is a sentiment of the masses. Populism is when there is a general mass mood urging social and/or political changes. Populism may also be a sort of rhetorical style deployed by members of political or social movements. In other words, fiscal conservatives may nudge a populist movement, or exploit one that has started on its own, and use it to advance their own personal or political agenda. Liberals, or facists may also nudge, or exploit a populist movement for similar reasons. This means that just because it is a wide spread view of the people does not mean it is pure, or honest. Populist movements can, and often do have aspects of manipulation within them. Some populist movements are being used by movers and shakers. Of course, there are times with the movers and shakers are being moved and shaken by the populist movement.
There is an old joke about a mass of people that run past a general store where some Yahoo is sitting there whittling. A little later some guy runs by and ask, “Did you see a bunch of people run past you going this way? I need to find them. I’m their leader.”
Warning: just because most everyone is sharing the same opinions or outrages doesn’t make populism good, nor does it make populism bad. There is a long history of populist political movements in the
Þ The Greenback Party
Þ The Single Tax Movement of Henry George
Þ The Progressive Party of 1912
Þ The Bull Moose Party of Teddy Roosevelt
Þ The Share the Wealth movement lead by Huey Long
Þ George Wallace (White is Right Party)
Þ The Reform Party of Ross Parot
Þ The Green Party of Ralph Nader
Þ The Economic Populism of Mike Huckabee/John McCain/Sarah Palin
Þ The Universal Healthcare movement espoused by then Senator Hilary Clinton
Þ The Get out of
The problem with all populist movements is that they tend to be fractured into too many parts. There are a myriad of interest groups, tons of niches and clicks that exist within a modern society and to get all this diversity moving in the same direction is a little like herding cats. Real populist movements tend to spring up naturally, without our elected cheerleaders, and they fad away despite the rah-rah let’s keep going speeches from these same political pep squad.
Being naked approaches being revolutionary; going barefoot is mere populism.