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huffpost forum: the question of john edwards’ populism November 27, 2007

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, econ, interviews, news, politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Will the success or failure of the Edwards campaign thus serve to answer the ideological and strategic debate between Democratic centrists and their more liberal critics – a debate that has dominated the Democratic Party since the 1960s?

The Huffington Post sought comment on this question from a number of political writers, activists and scholars, including Sirota; Al From, CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC); Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future; Larry Bartels; Lawrence Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI); Time’s Joe Klein; Paul Krugman of the New York Times; Chris Bowers of Open Left; Harold Meyerson, executive editor, American Prospect; John B. Judis, senior editor, the New Republic; Kevin Drum, contributing writer, Washington Monthly, and blogger Political Animal; Ruy Teixeira, fellow, Center for American Progress (CAP) and The Century Foundation; Michael Kazin, professor of history, Georgetown University; Andy Stern, President, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); and Matthew Yglesias, Atlantic.com.


I think it’s not a fair test because voters — even primary voters — are NOT getting a clear picture of the candidates’ positions. You’ll have to dig it up, but I’m sure I saw a poll in which Democratic voters believed that Hillary was the leftmost candidate and Edwards the rightmost. [See here.]


5. More broadly, Edwardsian populism may simply be off in some important ways from the kind of populism American voters are likely to be most responsive to….

[Teixeira quotes from his review of Sirota’s book, Hostile Takeover]: Class-interest populism fundamentally misreads the way the average American sees the economy and the system. As economist Stephen Rose points out in a useful new paper, “The Trouble with Class-Interest Populism”, the typical American-whether you choose to call him/her “middle class” or “working class” is simply not poor enough to be an unambiguous beneficiary of government action. Instead, their beefs with the system tend to be aspirational-that is, they’re not rising far enough fast enough and the difficulties of doing so are far greater than they’d like….

So does that mean giving up on populism, in general, or opposing the way Big Money unfairly games and manipulates the system? No, but it does mean if you want to reach the typical American, you need to couch your populism in aspirational terms, not just, or even mostly, in how their interests are being betrayed by Big Money. They may nod in agreement with the point that their interests and Big Money’s are different, but what they want to really know is: how can you help them get ahead?….


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