This populism ought to be more unpopularIf Paul Revere were to ride again today to raise the populist alarm, I believe he would be shouting, “British Petroleum is coming!
By: Reg Henry, The Dickinson Press
If Paul Revere were to ride again today to raise the populist alarm, I believe he would be shouting, “British Petroleum is coming! British Petroleum is coming!” Which made it all the stranger last week when Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite who bucked the Republican establishment to win the GOP nomination for the Senate race in Kentucky, quickly identified the real threat to the people’s liberty — and it wasn’t BP:
“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’” Paul said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”
That did it. At that precise moment, all pretense of concern for everyday Americans ended. The sound you hear now is some little guy in Louisiana snorting up his oil. The sound you hear is also the last rites being pronounced upon the corpse of American populism.
It has come to this: It is politically incorrect to take to task a foreign corporation for fouling America’s waters and beaches lest a board of directors in London be put off its tea and crumpets, not to mention its corporate earnings.
All I can say is: Lord, love a duck (and someone wash that duck with a strong detergent).
To be fair, Rand Paul doesn’t speak for all tea party followers in the country, who are united only by their more-patriotic-than-thou attitude. But the logic of their positions — in a nutshell, government bad — takes them all to that home on the range where the deer and the wing-nuts roam.
Call me old-fashioned, but my idea of populist movements is of angry people rising up on behalf of the interests of the common folk. Today, there’s no shortage of angry people but what they are angry about more often concerns the interests of the well-off folk. The rabble-rousers of today can’t even rouse a decent rabble.
Vox populi (voice of the people) meet pox populi (no translation permitted in a family newspaper).
I suppose none of this should have come as a surprise. Last month, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that Tea Party people are better off and more well educated than the general public.
They are not the great unwashed, as some snotty commentators have hinted. They are the washed hosing down everybody else.
They are also not the sans-culottes of public revolution. They are the avec pick-up trucks. (Note to Copy Desk: Tell Henry enough with the Franglais.) The cry of these pseudo-populists in the land is all about less government regulation — and this at the very time when headlines scream a caution to everybody but the chronically ideological.
Despite death and disaster, populist politicians express sympathy for coal mine owners who want regulation to be as moribund as a caged canary in a deep toxic pit. They hear Rand Paul criticize the Obama administration for hurting the feelings of BP and they say, “Oh jolly good!” — oh wait, that’s happening in London.
They also can’t stand health care reform. They resist it with all the fury that country club types resist visitors who aren’t members coming in and filling up the golf course.
Yes, there are legitimate concerns about whether the nation will be able to afford the cost of the recent health care legislation, but that alone doesn’t make it a populist issue — there might have to be taxes on the rich, which perhaps doesn’t strike the poor as such a special horror. Besides, the government always finds money for war; it’s just helping the millions of ordinary people at home that is the problem.
What is populist (in the true sense) anyhow about repealing the health care law if it brings back such gifts of the old system as denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions? Many people certainly will be more free if the law is repealed — free to die any time they like, which should be a consolation to them if they feel glum.
And if the Tea Party people are such great populists, how come they didn’t make a huge fuss when the Supreme Court decided that corporations have First Amendment rights like people when it comes to funding election campaigns? It’s a funny sort of populism that doesn’t have much to say about the voice of the people being drowned out by the guys in suits.
Sadly, the populism of today isn’t about advancing the interests of real people, which I would define as people with more problems than thinking how to plant a big wet kiss on the cheeks of BP’s executives.
Methinks these tea party folks are really corporationalists, not populists. Talk about un-American.
— Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail him at email@example.com