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Patriotic Kilgore

By Owen Paine on Monday May 8, 2006 08:51 AM

Here's a passage from the infamous Ed Kilgore. brain truster of the DLC. Your reporter here hacked this out of a review Kilgore posted this past March at Washington Monthly. Kilgore is reviewing a recent bio of William Jennings Bryan:
Those politicized Christians who have formed a firm alliance with Mammon and Mars on the grounds that the Word's main message today is to condemn abortion and homosexuality and feminism are forever vulnerable to those faithful who read their Bible and see otherwise.

As a Democrat, I am naturally more interested in the lessons for the neopopulists of the left, who are enjoying something of a renaissance these days by offering a theory of how Bryan's old party can break out of its bicoastal, blue state ghetto....

One does not follow Bryan's example by tearing his economic policies out of their broader cultural context or fomenting class consciousness or hatred of corporations as a matter of pocketbook self-interest rather than communal values. Indeed, the common neopopulist prescription of using economic "populism" to trump cultural "populism" sets one aspect of Bryanism -- and the weaker aspect at that -- against the other. Telling working people who care about cultural issues that they are expressing displaced anger over their legitimate economic grievances is condescending at best and insulting at worst and is entirely alien to Bryan's kind of populism. Moreover, it's an odd kind of populism that cannot accept "the people" as they actually are: complicated creatures with a mix of "correct" and "incorrect" views, which cannot always, or even often, be reduced to one of Dr. George Lakoff's "frames."

There's one more contemporary issue for the left which the book implicitly raises: the occasional necessity but perennial peril of bitter intra-party conflict....

. Without question, Bryan's revolt in 1896 overthrew a Democratic establishment mired in the politics of earlier decades, focused obsessively on competing for the "swing state" of New York, and indifferent to the growing challenges of the industrial age....

His candidacy also co-opted and thus largely neutered the appeal of the People's Party, which had been mortally threatening Democratic hegemony in the South....

But Bryan's savage indictment of the Bourbon Democrats... also disabled Democrats in the East and much of the Midwest and dislocated a partisan balance that had produced five straight photo-finish presidential elections. And with the sole exception of Wilson's reelection in 1916, Democrats would not come close to a majority of the popular vote in any of the six presidential elections between then and Bryan's death and would remain especially weak in the urban areas Bryan and his people spurned as Babylon....

I hope neopopulists and those representing today's Democratic factions read ... this fine book and learn a host of lessons: "The people" are who they are; "populism" cannot be forced left or right; and "progressivism" is the shared legacy and aspiration of us all, not the exclusive property of those most passionate about exclusively claiming it.

I'll with hold any comment till you all have the ball rolling ....

Comments (3)

Whoa whoa whoa! This is Ed Kilgore that's warning about the dangers of condescension? Ed Kilgore???

Great Galloping John Goodman! I think Kilgore's finally created a hypocrisy rift in the fabric of time/space that could suck all the meaning out of political discussion forever!

I'll provide the tar and feathers if you'll get Joe Bageant on the phone to do a rewrite, J.

Tim D:

Uhh when has the message of economic populism ever really been delivered by the Democratic Party? Who in the Democratic Party has challenged or even really exposed corporate power? In an article for MSNBC right after the 2004 election, Eleanor Clift pointed out that, although many conservatives turned out at the polls to vote on anti-gay referenda in various states, even more people turned out in other states to vote overwhelmingly for minimum wage hikes!!!

But this is nothing new. Right after the 2000 election, Al From wrote an article for Blueprint Magazine in which he lamented that one of Gore's major mistakes was taking the populist line (when that ever happened is a mystery to me):

in the 2000 election Gore chose a populist rather than a New Democrat message. As a result, voters viewed him as too liberal and identified him as an advocate of big government. Those perceptions, whether fair or not, hurt him with male voters in general and with key New Economy swing voters in particular. By emphasizing class warfare he seemed to be talking to Industrial Age America, not Information Age America.

Interestingly enough, he also stated that "The assertion that Nader's marginal vote hurt Gore is not borne out by polling data. When exit pollers asked voters how they would have voted in a two-way race, Bush actually won by a point. That was better than he did with Nader in the race."

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