Dems need a populist revival
As we begin 2010, populism appears to be the exclusive province of the passionate right-wingers. But it remains an opportunity for Democrats in the coming election.Democratic Party insiders consider me somewhat of a boat-rocker (untitled is unmuzzled). I’ve always been a populist, a Jeffersonian. This may upset a few, but now more than ever, Democrats need to renew our call for decentralization of power and democratization of the economy.Those Democrats who ignore the populist revolt do so at their own peril. When Democrats are strong on these pocketbook issues, we do well. But if we yield the populist ground to the Republican Party, the results of 2010 will not be in our favor.The middle class feels abandoned by both parties, the American Dream is more out of reach than ever. In the Wall Street bailout, who among us didn’t share the feeling that it was the big money getting a bailout, but not regular folks. Some Republicans have tried to co-opt the mood on Main Street, but where have Democrats been?If we are portrayed as the party of a central government owned and controlled by big money, we lose – and we deserve to. For much of our history, Democrats have been recognized as the party of working people. But with the Clintonians and the Democratic Leadership Council, there was a shift. The race for money took over. Many leading Democrats became eager lapdogs to the big-bucks campaign funders. The finance and insurance industry took charge of government. We now need to reverse that order.As an Obama enthusiast, it saddens me that President Obama’s economic policy appears to be back in the hands of those responsible for the economic meltdown. Administrations may have changed, but who’s in charge has not. As taxpayers underwrite the grievous mistakes made on Wall Street, any future bailouts will be unfettered by burdensome congressional oversight, institutionalizing taking from the many and giving to the few.Franklin Roosevelt, a great Democrat, said, “Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.” At a rally a week before the election of 1936, FDR bellowed, “I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it those forces met their master.” It was met with wild cheering.
Roosevelt also pointed out, “No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it.”Wall Street called the shots under Bush and Clinton, and now Obama’s economic table is owned by the same Wall St. Rubinites.The anger on the streets is because we’ve had quite enough of government of, by and for the very richest. Populism can be taken over by dangerous demagogues like Father Coughlin, George Wallace, and lately Glenn Beck. It is crucial that Democrats take back populism and directly address the issue of economic fairness and put forth an agenda that serves the middle class as it tilts away from the too-big-to-fail corporate finance and insurance interests and the elite richest 1 percent.
State senator from 1990 to 2004, Burt Cohen now hosts a radio talk show. His Web site is burtcohen.com.