11:14 AM, Jul 30, 2015 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published what would go on to be his most famous novel, It Can’t Happen Here. The novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a populist politician who resembling Louisiana’s Huey Long or, for modern readers, Caracas’ Hugo Chavez. He is described thusly:
The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his "ideas" almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.
Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only wings of a windmill.
Windrip goes on to take over America, slowly turning it into a fascist state.
While totalitarianism does not threaten the United States today, and does not seem likely to in the future, Populism (a sort of soft-despotism) does. Rhetorical over-inflation—one of the hallmarks of a populist—is a continuous threat to a country whose decision-making process relies on sober conversation. And while we have had our share of sober-sounding (and minded) politicians, recent comments by presidential hopefuls should serve as a reminder that a populist trend is always a few utterances away.
What is interesting about populism in the United States, is its copy-cat quality. After all, once the political class takes note that rhetoric sells, it is hard to scale back. Take, for instance, Donald Trump’s surge in the polls, despite numerous controversial, tone-deaf statements. Below is a wonderful collection tallied by NPR:
On South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham
"I see your senator, what a stiff. What a stiff: Lindsey Graham."
"And then you have this guy Lindsey Graham, a total lightweight. Here's a guy — in the private sector he couldn't get a job. Believe me. Couldn't get a job. He couldn't do what you people did. You're retired as hell and rich. He wouldn't be rich; he'd be poor."
On President Obama
"We're tired of being pushed around, kicked around ... and led by stupid people. They're stupid people!"
On the media
"I have many millions [of followers] between Twitter and Facebook. It's great. It's like owning a newspaper without the losses. It's incredible."
The people reporting unemployment figures (i.e., the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
"Bunch of clowns. Bunch of real clowns."
This shoot-from-the-hip approach may strike many voters as a refreshing breeze in a bog of political misdirection. There is apparently an appeal to populism, as well, in times of economic stress. Consider the Latin American approach of making false promises of economic largess to the beleaguered poor. But not all candidates are content to follow the populist tide. Jeb Bush, whom some see as a likely Republican nominee, said this in response to Trump’s antics:
"Mr. Trump has every right to have every belief he has. He's going to run, that's fine," Bush said. "But I don't want to be associated with the kind of vitriol that he's spewing out these days."
The 2012 runner-up lowers expectations for Iowa.8:33 PM, Jul 20, 2015 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Rick Santorum is keeping expectations low for his second presidential campaign. Asked if he would need to win the Iowa caucuses to stay in the race, the former senator said it “depends.”
“If I finish third and half a percent behind first, I think I feel pretty good. If I finish third and I’m ten points out, well, that’s a different story,” he told a small group of reporters in a Washington restaurant Monday afternoon.
8:36 AM, May 29, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
In a 41-second video that's set to be released later this morning, the Republican National Committee is using a populist message to hit Hillary Clinton for "hypocrisy."
The video mainly features a snippet from a speech Clinton delivered on Wednesday, May 27, at the South Carolina Democratic Women's Council. "Because we're going to have to stand up to the people who want to keep the deck stacked in favor of those at the top. We're going to have to fight to make sure that the success of our country is shared across the economy," Clinton says in the RNC ad.
11:52 AM, Jan 22, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Hillary Clinton has not been especially aggressive on ideas and policy. On money, however, it is a different story.
5:52 PM, Apr 7, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
A taste of the boss's newsletter (which is sent out every Monday):
Today's conservatism should be reasonably populist. A populist conservatism is right for the times—the people are in many ways healthier than our elites. A reasonably and reasonable populist conservatism is also a winning conservatism in today's America.
8:02 AM, Feb 28, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
A brilliant essay by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal on why Santorum might well be electable, on populist conservatism, and on a "clarifying sentence" by Clive Crook with commentary by Mickey Kaus and Jeffrey Bell. Here's a taste—but read the whole thing:
Barack Obama has managed a rare feat: The longer he holds office, the more he diminishes in stature. Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By JAMES W. CEASER
From charisma to populism—this is the slippery slope down which Barack Obama has been sliding over the past two years. In June 2008, Obama the candidate described his nomination as “the moment when . . . our planet began to heal.” In June 2010, Obama the president promised his partisans he would find an “ass to kick.”
The insurgents meet the insiders.Mar 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 23 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
It was a good week for proclamations, with Washington conservative leaders, tea party activists, and the GOP all touting statements of principle as thousands of conservatives came to town for the annual CPAC conference. The GOP’s statement has yet to be released, but each group’s intentions have nonetheless been scrutinized and parsed by the media in what feels like a political version of the eHarmony compatibility test.
1:53 PM, Feb 10, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
First, it was the spending freeze that sent economist and NYT columnist Paul Krugman into a tantrum, saying that Obama "liquidated himself" by "embrac[ing] and validat[ing] the Republican world-view."
His presidency is teetering and only Obama can pull it to safety.5:47 PM, Jan 25, 2010 • By FRED BARNES
In the new movie The Young Victoria, the mother of Victoria and her chief overseer meet with the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, to discuss what role they’ll play now that Victoria has become queen of England. They’ve waged a fierce struggle to retain control over Victoria. Suddenly Melbourne cuts off the chatter and bluntly explains the situation. “You lost,” he says.
That’s the situation that faces President Obama and his White House advisers. Months of polls on the president and his policies, the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s elections, then last week’s momentous Massachusetts Senate race – all have sent the blunt message to Obama that, for now, he’s lost. But Obama and his team insist on pretending it’s not true.