Friday, April 17, 2015

Populist vs. metapopulist

James Albert Wales, 1880: Senator Roscoe Conkling tries to work out the Republican presidential campaign. Image via Wikipedia.

So I'm listening to this piece on WNYC radio (locally produced, not NPR) about Clinton and Rubio introducing their campaign using the same "populist" language, and how savvy observers recognize that they're actually the same candidate, because we don't know what policies Clinton is going to propose (but we know she has Wall Street backers who aren't worried that it's going to be too radical) and we do know the Republicans aren't going to propose any policies at all, other than a rain dance imploring the money to trickle down from the stratosphere.

Only there's something I did notice about the language, that I think makes a big difference: Clinton's populist language is aimed at the concerns of the population of the United States, Rubio's at the Republican party.

That is, Clinton talks about the economic situation:
Striking a populist note, Clinton, who announced on Sunday she was running for president in 2016, said American families were still facing financial hardship at a time "when the average CEO makes about 300 times what the average worker makes."
While Rubio is quoted talking about the campaign:
if you think someone doesn't care or understand people like you, no matter what your policies are, it's going to be difficult to get them to listen to you, much less vote for you. And so I hope the Republican Party can become the champion of the working class because I think our policy proposals of limited government and free enterprise are better for the people who are trying to make it than big government is.
See what I'm saying? The Democrats are native speakers of populism, it's baked as they like to say into the platform, which is all about equality of opportunity and "leveling the playing field"—there'll be times when they avoid it and times when they don't, but it's always available. The Republicans aren't talking populism, they're talking about talking populism, because they think it might be an effective tactic.

I'm totally not expecting Clinton to show up as a socialist in 2016, though I'd like everybody to remember that she positioned herself to the "left" of Obama on domestic issues in 2008—that wasn't a very radical place. But let's just also not forget that there is a real difference between the parties, which the savvy (more interested in campaigns than in government) are poorly equipped to hear.

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