My friend*, Ron Fournier, longs for a new wave of populism and finds in me a sympathizer, if not yet an ally.
The Establishment won Tues night and will win again, but barring big change, the future belongs to the Populists: http://t.co/7eZxU7tU2E
— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) June 25, 2014
— Charles Flemming (@ChasFlemming) June 25, 2014
@ron_fournier This piece illustrates both the power and limits of common ground. Lots of power. Serious limits.
— Charles Flemming (@ChasFlemming) June 25, 2014
“This piece” is something Ron had just posted: What Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, and Erick Erickson Have in Common
You can feel Erick Erickson’s pain. You don’t need to be a firebrand conservative to empathize with Erickson’sscreed against the GOP establishment and its Mississippi “marionette”—Sen. Thad Cochran. You could be a liberal, a libertarian, or politically disengaged and still identify with Erickson’s essay.
It’s an Us-versus-Elites lament familiar to populists of all stripes.
Shortly after Cochran defeated a tea-party challenger with the help of the GOP establishment, out-of-state money, and recruited Democratic voters, Erickson wrote that the race “does crystallize for me the desires of many to start a third party.”
The problem for those who call themselves Republicans is that it is harder and harder to say exactly what a Republican is these days. The great lesson from Mississippi is that Republican means, more or less, that if elected the party will reward its major donors, who are just different than the Democrats’ major donors. Policy differences are about different donors, not an actual agenda to shift the country in a different direction.
I’ve got to say, I agree with every word Erick wrote here—as well as in the rest of his piece.
And I’m convinced that Ron is picking up on something both he and Erick observe and believe.
So they have common ground.
But not much in the way of common solutions.
A few days later came a classic Fournier trolling tweet:
— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) July 17, 2014
The link was to the first of (currently) two Fournier pieces on Joe’s Manchin’s daughter (the second came just today).
It’s a story custom-made to stoke the populist fire.
But it also (I think inadvertently) reveals the flaw in any hope of a Left-Right populist vision.
Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online: Big Business: Lapdog of the Left —
Heritage Action (the activist arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation) invited Senator Elizabeth Warren to speak at an event dedicated to phasing out the Export-Import Bank. The Ex-Im, as it’s known inside the Beltway, has become a favorite target of populist forces on right.
The Ex-Im gives U.S. taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to the foreign customers of giant U.S. corporations that don’t need the help. It socializes the risk while privatizing the profits. Basically, it’s free money for big businesses like GE, Caterpillar, and particularly Boeing (hence the outfit’s nickname, “the Bank of Boeing”). Even Barack Obama, shortly before he became president, derided Ex-Im as “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.”
If you thought Warren would sense an opening to evangelize for her brand of populism, you’d be wrong.
Ex-Im is up for reauthorization in September. Not surprisingly, both the people who get free money and the people who enjoy giving out money that doesn’t belong to them would like to continue doing so.
Which, it seems, includes Elizabeth Warren.
Warren didn’t take the bait. Her spokeswoman told Bloomberg, “Senator Warren believes that the Export-Import Bank helps create American jobs and spur economic growth, but recognizes that there is room for improvement in the bank’s operations.”
Warren’s decision to turn down the invitation sparked numerous charges of hypocrisy from Ex-Im opponents. As one writer for Reason magazine put it, “That’s right: The woman best known for demonizing big businesses nevertheless wants to maintain an outlandishly generous subsidy package for them.”
I’m not so sure there’s a contradiction here. Rather, I think we’re seeing why there will never really be a bipartisan Left–Right alliance against crony capitalism and corporate welfare.
The Right’s “libertarian populism” wants to separate big business and big government. That means no more “too big to fail” and no more of government picking winners and losers.
The Left’s anti-big-business populism is very different. It doesn’t want to cut the government’s incestuous relationship with big business; it simply wants to bring business to heel. Big business should do what Washington tells it to do, and when it does, it will get treats. When it doesn’t, it will get the newspaper to the nose. But big business will never be let off its leash, if the Left has its way.
There’s more, but that’s enough for me.
I wouldn’t be putting too much hope in that call to populist unity, Ron.