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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 14, 2012

 
Seismic political activity

by digby

And here I thought they were all populists too:

At a forum hosted by Mike Huckabee with 800 undecided South Carolina Republicans, Newt Gingrich was loudly booed when he criticized Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, according to a Republican who attended the closed-press event.

“They were really angry,” said the attendee. The forum will be aired on Fox News tonight.

It turns out that the booing was because Newtie was being mean to Romney and they'd promised not to be negative in this format. But either way, they aren't populists as we think of populists. They're producerists who aren't used to criticizing any thing but government elites. This is new for them:

Calls to rally the virtuous "producing classes" against evil "parasites" at both the top and bottom of society is a tendency called producerism. It is a conspiracist narrative used by repressive right wing populism. Today we see examples of it in some sectors of the Christian Right, in the Patriot movements and armed militias, and in the Far right.

Producerism begins in the US with the Jacksonians, who wove together intra-elite factionalism and lower-class Whites’ double-edged resentments. Producerism became a staple of repressive populist ideology. Producerism sought to rally the middle strata together with certain sections of the elite. Specifically, it championed the so-called producing classes (including White farmers, laborers, artisans, slaveowning planters, and “productive” capitalists) against “unproductive” bankers, speculators, and monopolists above—and people of color below. After the Jacksonian era, producerism was a central tenet of the anti-Chinese crusade in the late nineteenth century. In the 1920s industrial philosophy of Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin’s fascist doctrine in the 1930s, producerism fused with antisemitic attacks against “parasitic” Jews.
This strain remains embedded in American political life and gets lively during times of economic stress. All kinds of strange tentacles emerge from it. The conservative movement spent a lot of money and many decades making sure their "populists" looked in the "up" direction they wanted them to --- limousine liberals and government elites. And they're very well trained. But this election is the first time in years that we're seeing some resistance. It's especially interesting that it's starting with the conservative political elite in reaction to the crude dominance of the Big Money Boyz. This should be fun to watch.

But it's also probably smart to maintain some skepticism about how this odd bipartisan critique of capitalism might work out in practice:
A crude anti-elite critique is what unites some leftist populists, political opportunists, and right-wing populists in a common drive to smash what is seen as a corrupt regime...

Yet forms of left populism that lack a systemic analysis can find common ground with demagogic leaders who use the rhetoric of right wing populism. Left populism of this sort can demonstrate weaknesses that open it to such seduction.
According to scholar Margaret Canovan, this kind of left populism can involve the "[R]omanticization of the people by intellectuals who turn against elitism and technological progress, who idealize the poor...assume that ‘the people’ are united, reject ordinary politics in favor of spontaneous popular revolution, but are inclined to accept the claims of charismatic leaders that they represent the masses.”

This kind of naïve belief in the inevitable goodness of the will of the majority can lead leftists to support political positions that benefit the majority at the expense of unprotected minorities of all sorts. Lani Guinier and Derek Bell have written eloquently about the dangers of majoritarianism.

Right–wing populism can act as both a precursor and a building block of fascism, with anti–elitist conspiracism and ethnocentric scapegoating as shared elements.

Many fault lines are being exposed with the system under stress and nobody knows if or how they're going to break apart and come back together. It's facile to assume anything, but it's probably useful to remind ourselves of where these weaknesses have become dangerous in the past.



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