Populism has gotten a bad odor, and not just among plutocrats—for most of the political chattering class, it is at least faintly pejorative. But I think that’s about to change: When economic hope shrivels and the rich become cartoons of swinish privilege, why shouldn’t the middle class become populists? What Professor Hacker calls “office-park populism” will be a main engine of any new cyclical progressive renaissance. The question is whether we’ll elect steady, visionary FDR-like national leaders—Bloomberg? Obama?—who can manage to keep populism’s nativist, Luddite tendencies in check. ~Kurt Andersen, New York Magazine

Via Reihan

Reihan pointed out this column as an example of the astonishingly boring and unimaginative writing Mr. Andersen produces when he turns to columns.  He’s right–it is a terribly boring and unimaginative column.  Leave it to a New Yorker to take something as elemental and interesting as popular protest and social unrest and turn it into just another banging of the New Deal coalition drum.  The quote above is representative of the good liberal Northeasterner who sees the opportunity to exploit popular discontent with what he calls the “casino economy” but who refuses to give any indication that the the hordes of so-called “nativist Luddites” whom he so plainly loathes are the very people any populist candidate will need to win over.  It is strange how quickly he turns to references to the super-aristocratic FDR, a man who simply oozes upper class condescension, to make an argument for the “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” approach to politics.  There is nothing necessarily amiss in having aristocrats of one kind or another take up popular and populist causes, but the fawning admiration for FDR tends to confirm that there is nothing very populist about this kind of politics.  It may be in some sense a progressive kind of politics, but that is a very different strain in American political history.  The Dobbsian appeal to those whom Brooks called the populist-nationalists is quite distinct and, on some things, starkly opposed to anything FDR-like, whether we are speaking of trade, immigration or foreign policy.

There was one hint of something interesting in Andersen’s column that has gone unmentioned so far.  He writes:

We can afford to make life a little more fair and a lot less scary for most people. It’s not only a matter of virtue and national self-image. Because the future that frightens me isn’t so much a too-Hispanic U.S. caused by unchecked Mexican immigration, but a Latin Americanized society with a high-living, blithely callous oligarchy gated off from a growing mass of screwed-over peons.

That’s all well and good, except that the likelihood of creating the Latin Americanised, highly stratified society of the rich few and the poor many is greatly increased if America continues to import the political values (which are rather “Luddite” in their own left-populist way), poverty and people of Latin America.  That is something that I have been arguing for quite a few months now.