The Case for Economic Populism
The dysfunction of U.S. society has reached such heights that even capitalist true-believers feel that something is amiss. Income inequality has eclipsed that of the Gilded Age – a time period usually trotted out as a cautionary tale and prelude to the Great Depression by history teachers. Unemployment is permanently high – if not at the “failed state” level of some European countries – and middle class careers disappear in favor of unpleasant service jobs that pay poverty wages. That is, the experience of the very poor and the working poor is starting to creep up the social ladder, and the middle class with its political power and huge megaphone understands that its livelihood is at stake.
Much of this nightmare can be traced to the powerful reactionary response to the Civil Rights movement and the upheaval of the 1960s. Union density falls and income inequality rises as soon as the revolutionary 60s end. Two ideologically diverse political parties segregated ideologically and geographically. Nixon’s election in 1968 due to his southern strategy was the first major success of the nascent reactionary movement. The movement peaks in the 1980s in the golden age of self-interest and ultranationalism. Since then, the reactionary movement’s power has declined. Social conservatism has suddenly been defeated, as gay marriage spreads across the states. But the big money capitalists still prop up the reactionaries, now in the form of the Tea Party movement.
Now we are in the unenviable position of widespread government-supported social equality and economic inequality. Naturally these two concepts cannot be isolated. But when the working class sees the rapid spread of gay marriages combined with economic stalemate, they may draw some unflattering conclusions about the nominally center-left Democratic Party. The big money men of the Republican Party have always been the strongest member of the right-wing coalition. They desperately seek to elect ethnic/sexual/cultural minorities under the Republican banner to Congress in a desperate attempt to mollify creeping social liberalism, while maintaining their grip on an unfair and highly unequal economy. It’s why big business conservatives will hedge their bets and support “inequality Democrats” with social liberal credibility like Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer, and Dianne Feinstein in states that will no longer elect Republicans anyway.
Booker, Schumer, and Feinstein sabotage left-wing economic policy that would win over those disappointed with the dreadful economy. It’s a missed opportunity, and it may set the stage for President Chris Christie in 2016. Or it may set the stage for a populist takeover of the Democratic Party. It would be better for the country if the Democratic Party would reform in time to stop the election of an executive with a serious authoritarian streak like Chris Christie.