Waiting for Perot
Here's a good read by Mike Konczal about this somewhat odd new concept that sweeping the right wing intelligentsia: libertarian populism. I would have thought that was a contradiction in terms, but they have apparently come up with some magical thinking to fit these two ideologies together in their minds. (Tom Edsall explains here that the GOP political incentive is so they can forget about those icky "others" and simply get disaffected white voters to the polls --- assuming these voters exist.)
The dream of the ’90s is alive in the conservative movement. There’s a new name being floated around as the solution to the current electoral woes of the GOP: Ross Perot.
Undoubtedly. But then Ross Perot was a card carrying member of that exalted class was he not? And those white working class voters loved him for it.
I want to focus on a narrower question within this debate. Would an agenda focused on “libertarian populism” be the right way to bring economically disaffected whites back into the GOP’s fold? Both Ben Domenech of the Transom and Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner have made this case. But it’s an argument that has several major problems.
The specifics of a libertarian populist agenda are often lacking, but advocates sometimes point to to things like Rand Paul’s budget plan. This is a plan that calls for flat taxes, cutting discretionary spending through a balanced budget and removing the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate to promote low inflation and high employment.
This brings to mind Eugene Mirman’s joke about bears, where he notes that the common notion that you should play dead if you see a bear “is a rumor that bears spread.” Similarly, the idea that reducing the tax burden on the rich while calling for tighter money and deregulation counts as “populism” sure seems like a rumor spread by the 1 percent.
Konczal deconstructs the argument on the merits and it's pretty silly as you might have guessed. But I think the Perot idea is a pretty good one for Republicans on purely heuristic basis. Perot's great appeal was that he sounded like a down home regular guy, a hard core American lovin' nationalist who just happened to be a self-made billionaire. He pretty much perfectly exemplified the Republican ideal --- except for his idiosyncracies, which were around trade, which fit his nationalist streak in a convenient way. His greatest appeal was his fake outsider persona. It was well known that his company made most of its money from government contracts, but none of his followers cared. They loved hearing him rave about DC whores with their gucci loafers and his promises to "get in under the hood" and "fix it" (with its vaguely menacing intent.)
I've always felt that it was mostly a celebrity campaign (it began on TV on the Larry King show after all) that packaged a certain kind of American ideal --- self-made billionaire "populist" with a strong elements of nativism and white male superiority. I don't honestly think it was ideological beyond a certain "We're number 1!" that inspired a bunch of disaffected white people to feel they had a champion.
So, I guess I think this could work for them --- if they can find another personality that embodies this weird down home white male plutocrat. I'm sure they're out there. But it's not about what he says (and, yes, it must be a "he".) It's about who he is. These folks think they need their own Barack Obama.
(Be sure to read Konczal entire piece, btw. It's fascinating, not the least of which is some linkage to lefty libertarian nonsense I hadn't read before but which gave me a good laugh this morning.)