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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

 
Populism rules when voters are angry

by David Atkins

Voters are angry. Very angry. And no wonder: Republicans are crazier than ever, while the ACA rollout hasn't exactly made Democrats a beacon of competence.

Still, voter anger is about much more than recent events. It's about the broader failure of elites in our society, and the gnawing sense that the middle class is disappearing even as the elites do very well in spite of their incompetence.

Those whose intuitions lean rightward blame this incompetence on government and academic elites, and suspect that the middle class is suffering because the less fortunate are coddled. That these people are deluded, ignorant and hateful doesn't reduce the passion of their conviction. Those whose intutions lean leftward put the blame where it belongs: on elites of most sectors of society, while understanding that the wage-earner class is suffering at the hands of the asset class.

What almost everyone knows, however, is that the comfortable centrists are getting it very wrong. When people are suffering they don't vote for the status quo. They vote for change that reflects their own suspicions about the way the world works. For some that may look like the Tea Party. For others that will look like a progressive over a corporate Democrat.

The Third Way is upset because they're scared and don't understand why they're losing their grip on politics. The comfortable Republican establishment has been similarly fretting about the Tea Party crowd. The comfortable corporatists of both parties have been shocked to learn that the middle class isn't about to go quietly into that good night.

When voters are angry, populism will rule. If the centrists want to remain relevant, they're going to need to figure out how to actually improve the fortunes of wage earners. Otherwise they're going to find themselves on the outside looking in, either at a far-right totalitarian government, or at a 2nd New Deal government under an Elizabeth Warren or similar. Personally, I'm all for the latter. But I also fear the former enough to hope that the comfortable centrist asset class sees the handwriting on the wall well enough to drop its austerity fetish, stop feeding quite so greedily at the trough, and actually set themselves to righting the balance of the economy for a change.

They won't, of course. But one can hope they at least have that degree of self-preservation.


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