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February 07, 2009


What Steele said may be know-nothingism, but it doesn't seem to be populist in the sense of setting off ordinary people against elites. But even if it is an appeal to populism as very loosely defined, how odd that with all the seriously populist rhetoric coming from the Obama campaign and administration and the Democrats in Congress, it's Steele's remark about fish passage barriers that inflamed your anti-populist nerve.

Meanwhile, President Obama praised the patriotism of Republicans who voted for the stimulus/infrastructure expenditure bill. If those who voted for the bill are patriotic, I guess that means those who voted against it are . . . well, far be it from the President to say anything ungracious. Of course, for the President implicitly to suggest that opposition to his program is unpatriotic doesn't rise to the level of outrage occasioned by Michael Steele's comment about fish passage barriers.

"doesn't seem to be... setting off ordinary people against elites"? What exactly does that have to do with anything? Why are you reframing populism on your own terms? And, since you're complaining about the populism coming from "the Obama campaign" (it's the Obama Administration now, in case you didn't notice the Inauguration), what exactly is it in their populism that is driving a wedge, and between whom?

While Obama's calls of patriotism are not appropriate (actually doing your job is patriotic now, apparently), empty praise is always better than the unjust calumny of unpatriotism that came from the Bush Administration and was aimed at anyone who didn't toe the line.

In a way, Brendan was inadvertantly criticizing Obama. He wrote, "...fish passage barriers are a real environmental issue." Exactly. They're an environmental issue, not a stimulus issue. Obama is misleading the public when he calls this bill "stimulus." It's actually a hodge-podge of programs that various Democratic constituencies desire.

Note also Brendan's comment, "...people will have different views about the pros and cons of a fish passage barrier removal program as both environmental policy and economic stimulus." In fact, the proponents of this bill have never made a case that fish passage barriers are a good way to stimulate the economy. Nor have Dems made the case for the stimulative value of most other aspects of this terrible bill. They simply re-named "pork" as "stimulus". By this verbal trick, wasteful federal spending is supposedly essential for the country's economic health.

P.S. Political debate has to be based on what works. One could fill a book with learned discussions of all the harmful provisions of this bill, but few would read it. If unfair mockery will help protect Americans* from the damage this bill will cause, then Steele is serving the public by indulging in it.

*Actually, the bill will harm non-Americans too, because of its "buy-American" provision. Dems want to discourage international trade, even though history tells us that one cause of the worldwide Great Depression was interference with international trade from the Smoot-Hawley tariff.

Rone, since you asked so pleasantly, I'm happy to respond.

With respect to my statement that populism conveys a sense of setting off ordinary people against elites, you asked why I'm reframing populism in my own terms. I'm not. The redoubtable Wikipedia begins its article on populism: "Populism is a discourse which supports 'the people' versus 'the elites." Wikipedia helpfully notes

the definition by Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell who, in their volume Twenty-First Century Populism, define populism as pitting "a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice."

Dictionary definitions are in accord. The American Heritage Dictionary defines populism as "[a] political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite." Princeton's WordNet defines it as "the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite."

You complain about my referring to populist statements in the Obama campaign, saying "it's the Obama Administration now." Actually, I referred to both the Obama campaign and administration. Once the election is over, should campaign statements go down the memory hole? I think not.

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You complain about my referring to populist statements in the Obama campaign, saying "it's the Obama Administration now." Actually, I referred to both the Obama campaign and administration. Once the election is over, should campaign statements go down the memory hole? I think not.

You question what exactly is the Obama populism. Let me refer you to a February 2008 article in The Economist with the subhead "Democratic economic policy sounds worryingly populist" and to a February 2009 article on Politico entitled "Obama sets populist tone with Wall Street pay cap."

If The Economist and Politico are too middle-of-the-road for you, will you accept the opinion of the always reliable Kos about Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention?:

When was the last time we saw a speech like tonight's -- a full-throated defense of progressive principles, devoid of mushy "centrist" crap? It didn't avoid the tough social issues like abortion, guns, or gay marriage. It wasn't apologetic. Unlike Bill Clinton's and Biden's, it didn't unnecessarily praise John McCain. It drew sharp distinctions between Democrats and Republicans.

It came from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

To be honest, this is the speech -- aggressive and unabashedly populist -- I expected Biden to give. I couldn't be more pleased to have gotten it instead from the standard bearer himself.

Exactly. Steele has no clue how the economy works -- or that air, water, and soil are its foundation.


RBS's cite says, "Steele argues that tax cuts, not spending, are the only way to stimulate the economy." Is Steele right or wrong?

Let's see what history tells us. JFK, Reagan, and Bush all tried tax cuts. In each case the economy rebounded, and by substantial amounts. OTOH increased spending has been tried, including a couple of times recently by Bush. Increased spending has failed to stimulate the economy.

Also, look at what we can learn from other countries. Ireland and Bermuda have booming economies, due to their tax-favored situation. I work in a business (reinsurance) that has migrated from New York City to Bermuda solely because Bermuda has no corporate income tax. If the US abolished corporate income tax, our economy would boom. Even a substantial drop in corporate income tax would provide a lot of stimulus.

Another advantage of the tax-cut approach is that there would be no question of whether the benefits were going to special friends of Congressmen and Senators, like Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere. However, to Congress, I think that's a disadvantage.

Rob: i appreciate your discussion of populism; i had it wrong. I do think you too easily dismiss the implicit and explicit ignorance in Steele's words, though.

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