David Broder of the Washington Post gets republished frequently in the Spokesman-Review. From the columns I have seen, Broder has written many criticisms and little praise of the Obama administration. Just as he has also published a rebuke of the Democrats lack of budgetary constraint. While he can be responded to more directly through his office e-mail and his column responded to directly through the spokesman.com website’s blogs, A Matter of Opinion, I decided to post about it here.Quite frankly, I think it deserves a far wider review.
Don’t confuse populism with popular
For anyone who does not have a short-term memory problem oh say dating back at least a couple of decades or more and in any case should prove fatal to a “dean of journalists such as Broder; Ronald Reagan actually was not a “populist” president, no more than Barry Goldwater was a “populist.” What made these two men popular to the anti-Communist and pro cold war agenda of the Republican party was their propensity to see too much government as trending the way of socialism and/or communism. Of course, it was very popular for die-hard Republicans to label anything supported by Democrats as pink to a bright red if actual populist movements, from labor to civil rights and feminists; achieved change that they could believe in through government itself. Government shouldn’t “be there” to support collectivist rights. Precisely, the “collectivist rights” of minorities, women and labor movements. Which of course, is what the vast majority of the country is made up of, minorities, women and labor. Even though, hypocritically, the GOP would have needed the votes of the very same people whom they derided as desiring “collectivist rights.” Which is why the Democrats (despite the persistent labeling of being “pinko”) won easy majorities in Congress until Clinton assumed the presidency and health care reform became part of his domestic policy platform.
The GOP decided to engage in something liberal calling it a “Contract with America” in order to appeal to the base whom they expected (and gained enough support from) to finally put them into a majority in the House of Representatives by 1994 and made significant gains in the Senate itself between 1994 and 1996 to seek to politically threaten Clinton’s presidency. But the “Contract with America,” everything from law and order to term limits for [that other guy the nasty Democrat, but not for me the Republican] was being quickly abandoned by the GOP when the began getting the taste of majority power. Just because they made the “Contract with America” popular with the base, did not in fact make them populists. Instead, in successive years since they had initiated the “Contract with America,” the GOP have done considerable to undermine what they defined (since Reagan or Goldwater) as conservative.
Ronald Reagan like Goldwater, was ostensibly a cold warrior. Conservative meant that in this case: an opposition to Communism. And therefore, capitalizing on such an opposition was to label “too much government” and its tendency to regulate as a slippery slope toward a command and control economy. Unfortunately, Reagan’s full government support for the “supply-side” of economics was to also lead to the horrific collapse of the Savings and Loan industry and the taxpaid for bailout of same by the time George Bush the 1st entered office. The deregulation fervor also led to any number of business collapses because of mergers in which the businesses upon merging became too big, too fast and could not afford the practice. Many people were hurt as a consequence. What Broder overlooked in calling Reagan a “populist,” was that the real populists such as from farmers themselves who were being hurt by Reagan’s pro-business policies. You know the sort of pro-business policies that would tend to favor certain types of industries (the more they made in megabucks the more that a guy like Reagan would tend to love them) over others. But, more than two decades later, who is going to remember the march of family farmers on Washington, D.C.? Or Reagan’s gutting the Small Business Administration expected to act on the behalf of small business interests and agendas.? Today’s pro-business GOP actually go so far as to argue (as Reagan had not) that small businesses make up the majority of companies that create the most jobs. But the Reagan legacy was to in fact not support small businesses inclusive of the family farm and to in fact regulate on the behalf of mega corporations when it came to foreign trade and most certainly to regulate on the behalf of moneyed religious interests. It was only for the rest of us that government was the problem and not the solution. Reagan was neither a populist or a conservative. He happened to be a pro-business liberal. As for the movement business and religious interests; on a collectivist level, they found government to be the answer and not a problem.
The difference between what they say and what they do
You could probably say today that Barry Goldwater would have been more of a libertarian. That government would have been a major problem no matter what regardless of who sought it out as a rationale for a cure to what ever social ills existed. However, that would have made Goldwater anti-populist as well. If populism was on the left in his time, it would have been because the “populists” sought out government to address what they advanced as social injustices (read: social ills). Which meant that ant-slavery types in the 19th century prior to the Civil War were effectively left wing, the pro-democracy movements (in opposition to federalism) were left wing, those opposing child labor would have been left wing, early feminist movements would have been left wing, religious groups and etc. that sought out prohibition by way of constitutional amendment would have been a wide-spread alliance of various populist and therefore left wing movements. Left wing because they saw government as an answer to this sort of social ill produced by alcoholic consumption. If the conservative argument is the need for limited government, then the populist (and therefore left wing) argument is, that government has to be there for us when addressing social ills and injustices. As stipulated before in a prior post, conservative and populist are entirely two different animals.
Obviously, religious groups and the “TEA Party” movement are prepared to “rise up from the masses” (populism) and sally forth on an agenda or two. But, they are only prepared to “fear government” if the wrong party is in charge and to be all for it when the right party is in charge. Which puts them in the position of being hypocritical to the extreme. You can definitely say that religious interests and the “TEA Party” movement are “populist” all right, because they need people rallying to the “cause” to be effective. But what exactly is the “cause” and ultimately why do they think that government should address it?
In the case of the populist (and therefore should be regarded as left wing) religious movement: the desire for government to address their agenda is as follows: moral depravity inclusive of abortion, stem cell research and gays. The “war on Christmas.” Public funding for religious schools in the form of vouchers. Elected officials who abide by religious tests for public office. Government who literally supports faith-based initiatives and grant money for favored faith-based institutions. But when comparing religious populism with the U.S. Constitution, religious populism seems to hold the opinion that constitutional constraints apply to the rest of us but not to themselves. That the literal reading of the constitution and its constraints on government apply to the rest of us but not themselves.
The same is true of the “TEA Party” movement who’s own populism argues that the Obama administration is either “socialist” or alternatively “fascist.” That it will create a command and control economy especially and principally through health care reform and excessive taxes as well as regulation of (and therefore control of) various business enterprises. Yet, the “TEA Party” movement does not predicate any of its “populism” on the wave of angst over the social injustices of: bank collapses, bankruptcies, home foreclosures, Katrina, job losses and etc. that ultimately led to Obama becoming president. The “TEA Party” movement is actually against those social injustices being addressed because in order to actually do all that, it would mean too much government. So, what would make the “TEA Party” movement populist? Oh, and do they like Social Security and Medicare? You betcha. The services and taxpaid for entitlements that only government can provide naturally.
The better question would be, what is supposed to make this movement conservative? Those of particularly narrow thinking (radical by definition) never recognize the hypocrisy, the irony, indeed the inconsistency of their position.
It is only the rest of us who should not gain the assistance of government when needed. Where as even the “TEA Party” movement expects government to provide entitlements and more when demanded.
When it comes to Broder, he fails to ask the tough questions in order to come by the right answers. Because quite frankly he chooses to skip past the obvious glaring faults of political ideology that misnames itself as “conservative,” to arrive at puff pieces that he writes in defense of it. It used to be that journalists were skeptical of everything. Especially of parties, businesses, government. By being skeptical, they would keep digging, keep researching and then bring to public knowledge what they found out. Broder has no interest in doing anything like that. Which means he goes with popular definitions no matter how revisionist they happen to be and regardless of how many times the popular usage of terms has changed radically by definition compared to historical context of only decades.
If “conservative” according to Reagan was to eliminate gvt “being there” for small business, labor, women and minorities. Because the cold war could be exploited to “limit gvt to its original constitutional constraints;” it was still a “conservatism” with a shelf life limited to Reagan’s time in office. Even further, could be abandoned when politically convenient on the behalf of favored special interests for whom constitutional constraints would not serve. Federalism=”states’ rights” in the time of Reagan however it might be defined would not serve the purpose when states exercised their rights when it came to medical marijuana use or gays having the right to marry during the GW era. Nor would “federalism as defined” in the Reagan era be acceptable to the likes of the NRA (see the above “Opinion ” link) when the U.S. Supreme Court was called on to intervene in the right (by way of the 9th and 10th amendments) of cities such as Chicago to try to reduce crime by banning guns. Even if individual rights to private gun ownership does not literally appear in the second amendment, the NRA will have SCOTUS produce a liberal (read: open-ended interpretation of that amendment) to overturn such a law. Apparently, when “states’ rights” are at odds with specific agendas and interest groups, then it can be set aside in favor of the command and control coming from the federal government itself. Excuse me, but where is the skeptical journalism when we need it?
Instead of Broder arguing that this “populist” veneer for outright scary radicalism simply needs the “right message;” this scary radicalism needs to take a hard and honest look at itself. As it has since Reagan, completely lost its facade if you will of “conservatism.”