The Producers

by digby

In case anyone is not clear on what right wing populism really is and how it's manifested itself over the years, read this great piece by Dave Niewert. Here's an excerpt which homes in on what right wing populism really is:

A giveaway moment came during Sean Hannity's April 15 evening "Tea Party" broadcast from Atlanta, when he brought in a live feed from the Rick and Bubba Tea Tantrum in Alabama:

Hannity: And I'm going to tell you one other thing: When did we ever get to a point in America where, we're nearly at the point where fifty percent of Americans don't pay anything in taxes! Nothing!

[Crowd boos]

Rick: The numbers out are just astounding that, that, how much that the very top taxpayers actually pay. I feel like these taxpayers are disenfranchised. I want them to have a share of the burden just like they have a share of the vote.

That's right -- it's the wealthy top percentage of the country that needs a tax break. After all, they are the one Obama's targeting, right? So at least they're being upfront about just who "the taxpayers" are whose interests they're out marching to defend.

You could find similar sentiments on the right only the month before, in mid-March, when it was revealed that executives at the insurance giant AIG – which had just been the recipient of a massive government bailout – continued to pay themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses with bailout money. This spurred a loud round of protest, mostly from liberals and labor groups angry about the abuse of taxpayer dollars.

But Rush Limbaugh defended the bonuses, telling his radio audience: "A lynch mob is expanding: the peasants with their pitchforks surrounding the corporate headquarters of AIG, demanding heads. Death threats are pouring in. All of this being ginned up by the Obama administration." Glenn Beck had a similar rant on his Fox show: “What I really, really don’t like here is the idea that we are willing to give in to mob rule. And that’s what this is: The mob in Washington getting everybody all – I mean, the only thing they haven’t said is, ‘Bring out the monster!’ It’s mob rule! They are attempting to void legally binding contracts.”

This kind of obeisance to the captains of industry and their utrammeled right to make profits at the expense of everyone else is a phenomenon known as Producerism, which is a hallmark of right-wing populism. It's accurately defined in Wikipedia as:

a syncretic ideology of populist economic nationalism which holds that the productive forces of society - the ordinary worker, the small businessman, and the entrepreneur, are being held back by parasitical elements at both the top and bottom of the social structure.

... Producerism sees society's strength being "drained from both ends"--from the top by the machinations of globalized financial capital and the large, politically connected corporations which together conspire to restrict free enterprise, avoid taxes and destroy the fortunes of the honest businessman, and from the bottom by members of the underclass and illegal immigrants whose reliance on welfare and government benefits drains the strength of the nation. Consequently, nativist rhetoric is central to modern Producerism (Kazin, Berlet & Lyons). Illegal immigrants are viewed as a threat to the prosperity of the middle class, a drain on social services, and as a vanguard of globalization that threatens to destroy national identities and sovereignty. Some advocates of producerism go further, taking a similar position on legal immigration.

In the United States, Producerists are distrustful of both major political parties. The Republican Party is rejected for its support of corrupt Big Business and the Democratic Party for its advocacy of the unproductive lazy waiting for their entitlement handouts (Kazin, Stock, Berlet & Lyons).

I think they tend to make their judgments about the upper and lower classes based as much on tribalism as anything else. (Recall that the populist hero Ross Perot was a billionaire who made his fortune from government contracts -- but he sounded like a good old boy.) These things never play themselves out exactly the same ways but the fundamental appeals remain the same. The upper levels of society usually find a way to pull the strings and control these people, but the more vulnerable often suffer quite a bit at their hands.

Neiwert's piece is a very important primer for those of us who are trying to understand where this Palin-Beck teabag phenomenon comes from and how it relates to other right wing philosophies like Randism and militarism. At the end of the day it all translates into ugly know-nothingism that lashes out at everyone but the adherents themselves, who see themselves as the defenders of the Real America.

I get the impulse and I feel the same frustrations. But their solutions are always worse than the problems they seek to solve.