Populism can fire up a powerful new coalition

More of the same old is not going to inspire angry voters in 2016

On the one hand, the turnout in last November’s elections was pitiful. On the other, there are huge numbers of a massive yet largely untapped political energy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. One of America’s greatest traditions is populism. It’s been an integral part of American culture since the 1700s. Both major parties have skittishly shied away from it. Oh, they’ll say a couple of populist words, then as quickly as they can move on. They recognize the power but remain afraid.

Earlier in this century, the right had exclusive ownership, but not any more. There is a profound stirring lately, at least in New Hampshire, and mainstream political candidates had better pay attention to it’s great potential.

Up for grabs in the next election is the huge and growing number of disaffected occasional voters. The vast majority of young people didn’t even bother to vote this time.

A great many citizens are sick and tired of needing to hold their noses to get themselves to vote. People really want candidates to vote for, with enthusiasm.

More and more of us recognize that the transformation from a republic to a plutocracy is nearly complete. Meanwhile, sheepish middle-of-the-road candidates of both parties ignore this as they kowtow to their Wall Street benefactors.

Today, everyone understands what is meant by the “1 percent.” At its very beginning, America was founded on replacing plutocracy, demanding democracy and a republican system. And yet, look where we find ourselves today.

Our government is not really ours anymore. Especially in New Hampshire, we treasure self-government. What we see at the national level is anything but. The recognition that Washington is not serving us is big and growing fast.

There is great potential for a new popular power coalition. If the middle class was strong, populism would have less appeal. Both parties’ center of power remain afraid of the power of populism, as they should be.

But the brave candidate who champions populism will fire up a powerful new coalition. Think about the confluence of right and left on such issues as: people being able to participate in those decisions which affect them; stopping protection of big banks at the expense of everyone else; ending government spying on its citizens; cutting wasteful military adventurism and far-off bases; democratizing the Federal Reserve; cutting the power of big banks, big oil and big insurance; protecting Internet freedom; making sure police serve the common good; allowing drug laws to be decided by states or regions; local/regional control or ownership of public utilities; encouraging locally grown food and small businesses.

Freedom and community: what a concept.

These are but a few of the opportunities on which a powerful new left-right populist coalition can agree on and build, and in doing so, restore traditional republican and democratic (yes, small r and d): American values.

People want candidates to vote FOR, with enthusiasm. “Centrists” who throw their lot in with Wall Street and the interests that currently own our government are not likely to connect with this powerful and potentially massive new bloc of voters.

More of the same old is not going to inspire angry voters in 2016. As in the 1770s, we want a government that serves the common good. Some 2016 hopefuls seem to be getting this.

Burt Cohen, a former state senator, lives in New Castle.

Categories: Opinion