Popular Populism vs. Unpopular Populism
There is a tendency in recent American political discourse to use the term “populism” as a form of putdown
– Simon Johnson, New York Times (Economix Blog), 1/16/2014
Populist political movements come out of nowhere.
A loose-knit group of people get fed up enough with something to take concrete action for a common cause. They usually start with protests and go from there. In the beginning they are nonpartisan.
That quickly changes… and… not all populist movements are treated equal.
Political associations are soon attached to them by the national media. On that basis the media decides which is naughty and which is nice. Once the media decides a movement’s political leanings its public fate is etched in stone.
A story in yesterday’s New York Times illustrates this:
“An Occupy Wall Street Offshoot Has Its Day“
– Simon Johnson, New York Times (Economix Blog), 1/16/2014
Occupy The SEC
Few people have ever heard of an Occupy Wall Street subgroup called “Occupy The SEC” (Securities and Exchange Commission)
It is a small intrepid band of seven Wall Street misfits and lawyers headed by Akshat Tewary. They formed a subcommittee within the original Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement back at its inception in October, 2011. It goes by the acronym OWSEC.
Unlike everyone else in Zuccatti Park, these folks actually wanted to do more than defiantly living in tents, marching around chanting “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!” and mindlessly blocking the Brooklyn Bridge.
They took up a real cause. Their cause… beef up implementation of the so-called “Volker Rule” in the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. They decided to work within the rules to effect change.
Dodd-Frank is legislation passed in 2010 designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse that resulted in big bank bailouts. The Volker Rule is its active ingredient which will prevent the banking practices that directly led to the bailouts.
The SEC solicited public comments on the Volker Rule. Banking interests worked hard to water it down.
In February 2012 the OWSEC submitted a remarkable 325-page “comment letter (pdf)” answering nearly 350 questions raised about the Volker Rule. They argued for stronger controls and made exact wording suggestions to the proposed rule. The OWSEC later filed a lawsuit in 2012 to speed up the process after there were delays implementing the rule.
The NYT and Simon Johnson deserve kudos for highlighting the tireless work of the OWSEC as a positive accomplishment of a populist movement.
The Other Populist Movement
Three years before Occupy Wall Street another populist movement rose up in strong protest over multibillion dollar bank bailouts after TARP passed the Congress in late 2008.
Back then TARP triggered national indignation over public money used to bail out the big banks. Its originating issue is exactly the same as Occupy Wall Street. It’s the same problem that OWSEC is still trying to fix today.
Yet, both movements could not be treated more differently.
The earlier populist movement was inspired by the concepts of fiscal responsibility and limited government. A spontaneous nationwide protest against excessive taxation was called for on tax day, April 15th, 2009. Upwards of 500,000 protesters appeared in up to 750 cities.
That first much maligned and marginalized national protest and all that came after it became known as the Tea Party movement.
Will Rogers once famously quipped, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat”. No truer words could be said of the Tea Party movement. Like OWS, it isn’t a political party. It’s got hundreds of local branches, much like OWS does. Like OWS, it has many branches but no centralized organization.
Yet, in two short years an ill-functioning Tea Party movement fundamentally changed the political landscape of the United States in 2010. It engineered the greatest shift in across the board political power in U.S. history.
The U.S. House went from a huge Democratic majority to a huge Republican majority. Governorships shifted from a Democratic supermajorty to a Republican supermajority. The U.S. Senate supermajority was whittle down to just a couple seats. The biggest shift, though, was in state legislatures where 625 seats shifted into Republican hands.
After the 2010 elections over 50 members, mostly newly elected, belonged to the U.S. House Tea Party caucus. Today that caucus is still 48 strong and there are 5 more members in the U.S. Senate.
There are no U.S. Congressmen or Senators associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Yesterday, the New York Times ran a danged good story illustrating that populist movements are not necessarily a “form of putdown”. To illustrate it used a positive example from the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Yet, the vastly more influential Tea Party movement was never mentioned. Why? The Tea Party brought excessive government spending back into the national debate.
Paying bills and advocating smaller government is an unpopular philosophy. It threatens big government liberal thought. For that reason, in some circles, it must be repressed. It must be eradicated. For that reason you will rarely read a positive story about the Tea Party movement.
The only “form of putdown” of populism existing today comes from the mainstream press led by the New York Times itself.
Early on, many in the news media publicly labeled Tea Party followers “teabaggers”, which is a truly disgusting derogatory term. Even President Obama used it to criticize millions of American citizens whose only crime is they believe in fiscal responsibility and limited government.
President Obama and the New York Times will painfully rediscover populism come the 2014 elections.
Posted on Jan 17, 2014, in 99%, Civil Rights, culture, Government, journalism, Life, news, Occupy Wall Street, Opinion, Politics, populism, TARP, Tea Party, Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.