I’m a little chagrined to find myself in agreement with Obama-foe Ron Fournier on the subject of our populist moment, but his report on talking to regular folks in Pennsylvania last Tuesday has some great insights. Money quote:
Americans see a grim future for themselves, their children, and their country. They believe their political leaders are selfish, greedy, and short-sighted—unable and/or unwilling to shield most people from wrenching economic and social change. For many, the Republican Party is becoming too extreme, while the Democratic Party—specifically, President Obama—raised and dashed their hopes for true reform. Worse of all, the typical American doesn’t know how to channel his or her anger. Heaven help Washington if they do.
What are the main themes of this discontent? Anger at Wall Street; anger at a rigged capitalist system; anger at K Street and the permanent Washington class; anger at gridlock and Obama’s inability to break out of it; anger at depressed living standards and soaring inequality. Some choice quotes that cannot be summarized in a poll:
“America is for the greedy, for those who’ve made their buck or grabbed their power. It’s not for us.” … “The rich get richer. The poor get benefits. The middle class pays for it all.” … “Do I think there might be some group or some person who might tap into our frustration and, unlike the president, actually change things? Yes. Yes, I do.”
Fournier comes up with a rough list of core populist demands. The first of which is something the foreign policy mavens in DC should hear and hear well:
A pullback from the rest of the world, with more of an inward focus.
A desire to go after big banks and other large financial institutions.
Elimination of corporate welfare.
Reducing special deals for the rich.
Pushing back on the violation of the public’s privacy by the government and big business.
Reducing the size of government.
Rand Paul fits the mold. Hillary Clinton? In my view, she has a few months to prove she can actually run a populist campaign, which means a stump speech worthy of a rabble-rouser, and not the usual pabulum of a careful and calculated pol. I’ve never heard her give such a speech or exhibit the kind of retail political skills her husband is a master of. But she deserves a chance to prove she is the person for this moment. If she can’t hack this, she should get out of the way for someone who can.