Populism Then And Now
November 25, 2009 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Etymology: Latin populus the people
Date: 1892
1 : a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people; especially often capitalized : a member of a United States political party formed in 1891 primarily to represent agrarian interests and to advocate the free coinage of silver and government control of monopolies
2 : a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people (Previously on Metafilter)

Definition courtesy Miriam Webster.

In the past:

William Jennings Bryan - Had is own book, prosecuted in the Scopes trial and made a good showing amongst the farmers and poor during hard times. He provoked the first "What's the Matter With Kansas".

Eugene V. Debs, known for running for president from prison, and getting measurable, if insignificant, votes.

One I never heard of, but who intrigues me, Mary Lease.

Who can forget Huey Long? "Every Man a King!"(Previously, really good)

In the present there is considerable talk about Populists and who is or isn't one, and whether it's even a good idea to be one.
posted by lysdexic (30 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Debs was a Socialist, not a Populist. A cursory reading of his Wikipedia article would have told you that. He was running in a period when Populism was a very definite movement and the Socialist Party of America, of which Debs was the most prominent member, was most certainly not part of it.
posted by graymouser at 1:41 PM on November 25, 2009

When I was young I fully supported the idea of populism, now that I'm old and have seen what the population-at-large is wont to do I am much less of an avid supporter. Like anything, I suppose, it is all in how it is used. I won't Godwin the thread but it seems that many of the worst (nd to a lesser extent the best) politicians of all time where populists at heart.
posted by edgeways at 1:45 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fair point, graymouser, but in 1896 he was a Populist, so I thought it fair to include him. Bryan was a Democrat as well.
posted by lysdexic at 1:46 PM on November 25, 2009

"If I must be devoured, let me be devoured by the jaws of a lion, and not gnawed to death by rats and vermin." -- Samuel Seabury
posted by boo_radley at 1:50 PM on November 25, 2009

Oh, Eugene Debs. Where are you now?
posted by dunkadunc at 1:53 PM on November 25, 2009

It seems that "populism" is often simply an euphemism for "demagoguery".

See also: Lou Dobbs.
posted by darkstar at 1:57 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Isn't Lou Dobbs running for president?
posted by boo_radley at 2:09 PM on November 25, 2009

I doubt it. It's probably more of the old tease where people help foment rumors they'll run for office in order to raise interest in their personal brand. Which they wil then cash in on by making the paid lecture circuit and getting a show on Fox or something.

Dobbs running as an Independent in 2012 would be awesome for the Democrats, though. Tons of high efficacy conservative seniors would flock to him. His candidacy as a third party option would be the best way to marginalize the Republicans' most reliable voting bloc.
posted by darkstar at 2:17 PM on November 25, 2009

Whoops, it was a Senate run; heard it on NPR this afternoon.
posted by boo_radley at 2:19 PM on November 25, 2009

Interesting...a Senate seat might be possible for him. But I still suspect it's a tease.
posted by darkstar at 2:22 PM on November 25, 2009

Populism my ass. I've been to a town hall meeting full of tea partiers. These aren't some populist mob — these are a bunch of straight-up, old-fashioned, small-business-owning Rotary Club Republicans. They're about as populist as Bertie Wooster and you're not pinning this one on poor people. Nor Lou Dobbs, either — populism is why, now that he's planning a run for office and wants to appeal to the actual populi instead of the aforementioned elite tea party demographic, he's decided that amnesty for undocumented immigrants is a great idea after all.
posted by enn at 2:40 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

self-proclaimed Populists are the politicians most likely to be shaking your hand while picking your pocket.. in other words, ambidextrous...
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:42 PM on November 25, 2009

From enn's link:
First, though, Mr. Dobbs is working to repair what a spokesman conceded is a glaring flaw: His reputation for antipathy toward Latino immigrants. In a little-noticed interview Friday, Mr. Dobbs told Spanish-language network Telemundo he now supports a plan to legalize millions of undocumented workers, a stance he long lambasted as an unfair "amnesty."

"Whatever you have thought of me in the past, I can tell you right now that I am one of your greatest friends and I mean for us to work together,"
Ho. Lee. Shit.

If he's able to rehabilitate his image despite YEARS of vile demagoguery and antipathy against Latinos, I don't know what I'll do. I mean, my cynical view of politics is already languishing in the dugout cistern in Jame Gumb's basement. I'm not sure how much lower it can go.
posted by darkstar at 2:56 PM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

See also: Lou Dobbs.

Lou Dobbs? The man looks like a scrotum having an aneurysm.
posted by jonp72 at 4:31 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hahah, I read about Lou Dobbs "reaching out" to the Hispanic community. It's like someone told him for the first time that no one is going to be president with terrible numbers in the Latino community and he just figured he could paper the whole thing over with a few kind words or something. It's absurd. Saying " I can tell you right now that I am one of your greatest friends" just sounds more sarcastic then anything else. I can't imagine his supporters or opponents would take it seriously.
posted by delmoi at 4:57 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lou is apparently considering a bid for President. Little wonder he's offering to apologetically suck dick for being such a hateful, racist bastard all these years.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:28 PM on November 25, 2009

FFF: If they line up for it, and he does it, that might almost be worth my vote.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:34 PM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Okay, I don't care what you say. If Lou Dobbs can pull a 180 on his views on immigration like that, he's not qualified to be president or senator, even though I feel like his stance is a good policy. A sudden apparent change of heart like that means that he's either fickle or lying. If he's lying, duplicity is a bad quality for a democratically elected leader. If he can change his mind that quickly, he's too inconsistant to be trusted.

And it's not like it's a small thing. This is his trademark issue. It'd be like if Al Gore said that he changed his mind and thought global warming wasn't an issue after all, and that we might as well drill and burn as much oil as possible.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:03 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm glad to see your links from this morning didn't get wasted, lysdexic.

Mary Lease named one of her sons Ben Hur. I'm sure that was popular with his classmates.

I've been thinking about this topic all day. There are lots of reasons why people want to be represented by someone of their own income, education, intelligence, and class level. One main reason is that they believe a populist will "get" their point of view, a view which might be politically incorrect or unpopular with others. I was struck by how one of Sarah Palin's supporters wanted to take Polar Bears off the endangered species list so that oil drilling in Alaska would have no impediment. I'm sure that this supporter is unable to fully comprehend why other people would chose a bear over oil, but he knows it is unPC to talk about it. However Sarah, being a hunter (or at least pretending to be a hunter) would understand that oil is more important than mere bears.

The big problem for the Populist candidate, as we can see in the case of Lou Dobbs, is you need to appeal to the widest audience the higher up the position you aspire to. A local guy, running for mayor in the Texas panhandle, may have all kinds of crazy ideas about the Mexican immigrant population which he can use to rally the locals who share the same beliefs, but someone running for Governor of Texas can't afford to piss off the Hispanic community. Lou Dobbs sang to the anti-immigrant choir for years, but now that he wants to be elected to the Senate he will have to go outside the choir to get enough votes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:21 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been fascinated by the reading on this, really. I think we romanticize a lot of the Populist movement as "of the people" in a soft-focus "we are the world" type sense, but they had their nativists and crazy money people and ignoramuses. They couldn't all be kept happy at once.
posted by lysdexic at 6:40 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was struck by how one of Sarah Palin's supporters wanted to take Polar Bears off the endangered species list so that oil drilling in Alaska would have no impediment. I'm sure that this supporter is unable to fully comprehend why other people would chose a bear over oil, but he knows it is unPC to talk about it.

Fuck that. I'd choose polar bears over having people in Alaska. But then, I don't live in Alaska.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:03 PM on November 25, 2009

That Vassar link was pretty weak, I can't abide a discussion of American Populism that doesn't at least mention the likes of William Lamb or Charles Macune.

Here's something better from Missouri State.


*The Omaha Platform (in case you avoided the previously)
*Democratic Promise by Lawrence Goodwyn (abridged for wider audience)
posted by IvoShandor at 9:19 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lou Dobbs is hilarious. "Sure, I spent the last several years calling you dirty, illegal, murderous plague dogs. But that was then! Now that you have something to offer me, let's be friends!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:17 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is the second time in about a month that Miriam Webster has appeared in a front page post.

She is not amused.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:51 AM on November 26, 2009

A Democrat, Macune opposed both the formation of the People's Party and the bimetalism which served as the basis of the 1896 fusion of the Democratic and Populist parties.

I'd say that's a little like the bloodbath going on now talking about who's a "real" Republican, and played out in NY-23 (The race now 'unconceded' by the Conservative Party candidate)
posted by lysdexic at 4:13 AM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Actually, he just re-conceded once the numbers came back and looked pretty bad after all. What I love is how Glenn Beck asked him to "unconcede." Say what you will, I prefer it if my candidates are independent of TV pundits. I'd be creeped out if a Democrat followed Keith Oberman's every whim, too, so don't pull the whole "OH, BUT IT'D BE FINE IF BARNEY FRANK DID IT!" card.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:10 PM on November 26, 2009

I'm also glad you could salvage your links. Interesting stuff on that Eugene Debs.

I like the subject - been thinking about the difference between populist and popular politicians. Thanks.
posted by philfromhavelock at 7:37 AM on November 27, 2009

I prefer the more modern 'popist'.

Politically (not the art movement) whatever is the mob-think political thrust at the time.

Most recently: OBAMAMANIA.
posted by HTuttle at 4:38 PM on November 27, 2009

Most recently: OBAMAMANIA

Describing the supporters for a particular candidate, whom only a bit more than 50% of the population voted for, as having a mania, strikes me as a special kind of mania by itself. Let me guess . . . you went rogue?
posted by IvoShandor at 11:58 AM on November 30, 2009

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