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Friday, March 20, 2009

On the Dangers Inherent in Populism

It's been a long time since my AP US History. So I apologize to the historians in advance. As a Raving Leftatic, it's a truism that I adhere to the essential tenets of populism. However, in a conservative Republican administration that meant something entirely different, than it does today. I feel something of a retraction is in order. What has always been so appealing to me about Populism is that I have a basic problem with the extremely wealthy. That problem has always existed for me, in good times and in bad. It stems from a mutual rejection of a list of priorities, predjudices, and overall disposition. I should be fair--the other half of the rejection is a deep rooted pyschological resentment of having grown up in an affluent suburb. Regardless, I find populism attractive because it serves as a crowbar with which to pry open doors long closed to the vast majority of people. Namely, access to government, access to wealth, and more importantly access to information. So when I see the House pass a bill to tax the AIG execs bonuses 90% pass in a literally a day--I get worried.

However, as the crisis continues, and the pogroms against the financial world grow ever more frenzied I have to say the idea of wealth distribution is becoming a little bit frightening. Not because I disagree with it as much as I fear the lynch mob mentality that we're seeing. The MSM is always the last to glom onto a popular movement, and they've gotten on board of the "Lynch the Bankers" cash cow with great abandon, but I wonder if they really know the size of the beast they stir. It's one thing for people like me to agitate and press for reform. I'm just left enough to be deemed radical by the right. But I still work within the system. A lynch mob just burns everything in its way. The vitriol I'm seeing on Digby's Hullabaloo and other left blogs is alarming.

We can't rewrite the past. We shouldn't retroactively prosecute, that's one of the great tenets of the law, and so it should apply here. Make rules for the future. Limit executive pay? I think that's a silly rule. The difference between an angry mob, and an angry mob of populists is that the populists are really just asking for their rightful share. The new rules should ensure that pay is more equitable, should ensure medical care, and pension plans. Should help mitigate the vast amounts of debt that each one of us, including our government, has accrued.

And so, I reach a new point in my intellectual career. I've never seen such anger expressed in my lifetime over a leftist idea. Oh I know my American history, so I know that it's always been there. It's just so odd. The last thirty years of public rhetoric has been one nasty diatribe after another, declaiming against the poor, the disenfranchised, whilst the rich were elevated to pedestals reaching to the heavens. To be clear: I'm not disavowing my principles, but we're here for justice, not blood. And an angry mob that turns left can be just as bad as an angry mob that turns right.

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