I haven’t discussed the Wisconsin recall vote. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my disdain for populism that I find recall elections to be complete shams, and this goes whether the affected officeholder(s) are Democrats or Republicans. Had I been blogging in 2003 I would have said the same for the recall vote that ousted Gray Davis in California. Voters know going into an election that they are voting people into office for a certain amount of time, and they have to live with the consequences of said vote. Barring glaring corruption or malfeasance, elected officials should remain in office for the duration of their terms. If recalls became regular features of the democratic process, elected leaders would never enact meaningful change lest they be booted out of office at the drop of a hat. And while as a society we have grown cynical and jaded regarding politicians, there is something to be said about stability in office. After all, we can vote the bums out every two, four, or six years depending on the office – as the voters in Indiana have done with Senator Richard Lugar, who I believe was first elected shortly after New Hampshire ratified the Constitution.
In the specific case of Wisconsin, the unions have led the effort to boot Governor Scott Walker out of office. It is looking more and more like this will be a futile effort. What’s more, it looks like the DNC has rebuffed requests by the Wisconsin Democrats for help with the election next month. The local Dems asked for $500,000, and so far the DNC has sayed, “NYET!”
Leaving aside your feelings about this recall effort, is this a smart move by the DNC? Yes, there is this little election coming up in November, and the party’s fundraising hasn’t gone as spectacularly as hoped. And even though the polls have been close, it is a better than 50/50 proposition that Scott Walker holds onto his seat. It would arguably be better for the Democrats to funnel their resources where they are needed, like potentially closer than originally thought House elections in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.*
*Okay, that might be the thing of fevered fantasies, but you never know.
That being said, a Democratic victory in June would be a colossal shot in the arm for the party. Polls indicate that President Obama has a very narrow lead over Mitt Romney in Wisconsin, and this is certainly a state that Republicans could capture in November. I wouldn’t suggest that there is a direct correlation between the recall election in June and the general election in November, but it doesn’t hurt (usually) to have the incumbent governor campaigning for the presidential candidate. By bypassing this election the Democrats could be hurting Obama’s chances in the state later on in the year.
The American political scene since its inception has constantly been riddled with problems. The question of what the present-day problems are cyclically arises in political discourse. In the past two years in particular, it has become an almost universal observation that the political discourse is bitterly partisan in ways that we have never seen as a country.
Those in the punditry business have presented a number of hypotheses, some good, some bad, as to how or why all that we are witnessing is taking place. The content of such speculation is hardly unexpected: President Obama has made a number of strategic errors; the Republicans are just sheer obstructionists with no ideas or solutions to anything; partisanship in Washington is just too great on both sides of the aisle due to the Democratic supermajority; the overflow of ideological partisanship to 24-hour chattering cable-news stations is making the nation more partisan because each side chooses their news source, their associations, etc., in alignment with their own views, reinforcing their own habits of thoughts and therefore we collectively fail to challenge to substantively confront counterviews; disagreement over the Senate filibuster has caused a ruckus because it has either halted or changed the political dynamics of Democratic policy initiatives due to delay— is this a mechanism of checks-and-balances or an unreasonable threshold, in present time, requiring a supermajority for any important legislation?
There are many other explanations commonly put forth, but what is perhaps the most underlying problem of all, the truest explanation and biggest culprit of all, indeed, the biggest threat to democracy, goes unnoticed: the apathy, the ignorance, and the growing incoherence of the American public. This may be called, for the lack of better terms, the “populist problem.” Continue reading
1500 words. I promise.
Now that my obnoxious and pretentious title has grabbed your attention…
On my facebook profile, I give a reason why I am a populist, perhaps the main objective reason. It reads:
“In times such as these, the instincts of the people are based in healthy life drives and survival instincts, while those of the intellectuals are rooted in increasingly irrational spiritual disorders.”
So before I get to why I am a populist, I want to make clear up front that I am not an unconditional populist. That is why I say, “in times such as these.” By that I mean, among other things, that there are times during which I would not be a populist. I don’t hold the view that social elites are always and everywhere wrong – with the American founders, I would much like to see a “natural aristocracy” of talent (which the Church was too, by the way in the Middle Ages – where do you think all of the second and third sons of the nobility or the bright peasants who couldn’t rise by other means went?).
This might be a good discussion to have here. Comments are open.
Daniel Larison on why conservatives have been critical of Michael Steele, but defended Sarah Palin:
Steele does not have the benefit of a verbose, mistake-prone counterpart to distract us [like Palin did with Biden], but even if he did the reaction to Steele would have been nothing like the response to Palin. In other words, Steele’s blunders on substance are treated as badly damaging and activists insist that they require immediate correction, while Palin’s blunders were spun as imaginatively and desperately as any politician’s answers have ever been spun. This is a bigger problem than pushing unprepared leaders into the spotlight–it is a clear preference for one kind of style, namely the combative pseudo-populist act, over whatever style Steele has at the expense of any consideration of the merits of what these leaders say. The takeaway is that Steele is being ripped apart for making statements that are not terribly different from Palin’s campaign statements on the very same issues, and somehow she is still considered a rising star by the very activists who are ripping Steele.
As the election becomes more a matter of history than immediate emotion, it is a good time for sober analysis of what went on in the 2008 election. Yuval Levin has a very good analysis in Commentary Magazine of the phenomenon that was Sarah Palin’s candidacy. In framing the controversy he makes an interesting distinction:
In American politics, the distinction between populism and elitism is further subdivided into cultural and economic populism and elitism. And for at least the last forty years, the two parties have broken down distinctly along this double axis. The Republican party has been the party of cultural populism and economic elitism, and the Democrats have been the party of cultural elitism and economic populism. Republicans tend to identify with the traditional values, unabashedly patriotic, anti-cosmopolitan, non-nuanced Joe Sixpack, even as they pursue an economic policy that aims at elite investor-driven growth. Democrats identify with the mistreated, underpaid, overworked, crushed-by-the-corporation “people against the powerful,” but tend to look down on those people’s religion, education, and way of life. Republicans tend to believe the dynamism of the market is for the best but that cultural change can be dangerously disruptive; Democrats tend to believe dynamic social change stretches the boundaries of inclusion for the better but that economic dynamism is often ruinous and unjust.
Both economic and cultural populism are politically potent, but in America, unlike in Europe, cultural populism has always been much more powerful. Americans do not resent the success of others, but they do resent arrogance, and especially intellectual arrogance.
Addressing how Palin’s candidacy turned this cultural fact into a firestorm, he says: