Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Notes on populism

David Seaton's News Links
Howard Dean has often said the "values voter" should not be awarded to the Republicans by default. Democrats could learn a lot by studying Huckabee.

I have no idea what is really behind Mike Huckabee's friendly facade, but he is making some interesting and nuanced noises for a southern populist and I think Democrats should take note of these nuances and make some of the same noises.

What are the nuances I'm talking about? For one thing, as far as I know he never uses Reagan-type racist code terms like, "state's rights", which is code for keeping black people from voting, or "welfare queen", which is another, racially loaded term. In fact I believe he is on record as saying that the major problem of the American prison system is that it is filled with people who are drug addicts, not criminals, and that instead of prison they should be in rehab. Since the majority of prisoners in American jails are persons of color, this statement is profoundly un-racist. And if you consider how much more caring, un-punitive and especially how much more expensive it would be to treat these unfortunates as sick people instead of criminals to be locked away, the statement is amazingly un-conservative. This is the sort of message that Democrats should be delivering.

Why are so many of the poor of America, white and black, socially conservative? Because without a welfare state, the only institutions that offer any comfort or protection are the church and the family. The family is the first welfare state. Here is Spain where we have a welfare state and a fine public health system, the traditional family is still in place. In the hospital system this means that the operations are fantastic, but the nursing is deficient, because normally the patients are surrounded by solicitous family members carrying bed pans etc and nurses only come around if patient suddenly takes a turn for the worse. In the USA there is no welfare state and the family is also under heavy pressure from the system.

Poor people are terrified: frightened people take comfort where they can. A divorced waitress with two kids who has to take them to an emergency room to treat their asma can't be criticized for being a "Left Behind" enthusiast.
There is no better country than America in the whole world to be rich. It is probably the only country in the world where the rich are loved. Conversely there is no worse country in the world to be poor. Of course these people are paranoid, the system literally hates them.

We all know that Marx said that religion was the "opium of the people", but it could be argued that worshiping Jesus is less harmful to poor people than taking meths, heroin or crack. Very few people are equipped to take such suffering straight.

Huckabee sometimes talks just like an old fashioned, Huey Long type southern populist. In an amazingly un-Reaganlike statement Huckabee demolished the central Republican article of faith, "trickle down economics", claiming that cutting the taxes of the super rich is: "a false and callous assumption that the poorest people in our nation, with inadequate salaries, lack of nutritious food, substandard housing and nonexistent or underfunded health care, can somehow afford to patiently wait while someone else's wealth eventually splashes onto them.". Hell, that sounds like that other creationist, William Jennings Bryan! No wonder the conservative establishment is horrified by him. Where are the Democrats on this, only Edward's make these noises.

If Democrats were intelligent and, after 2004, this is in doubt, they would study Huckabee with the attitude of humble self-criticism and then triangulate him to death. I really doubt that they can and they will.

It would be a shame if a serious populist movement took off in the United States and the party of FDR was left out of it... But I'm afraid that's what might happen. DS

Huckabee, Giuliani tied in 2008 Republican race - Reuters
Mike Huckabee has surged into a virtual tie with front-runner Rudy Giuliani in the national 2008 Republican presidential race two weeks before the first contest, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas whose campaign has caught fire in recent weeks, wiped out an 18-point deficit in one month to pull within one point of Giuliani, 23 percent to 22 percent.(...) "Huckabee is on a roll, he has gotten an enormous amount of publicity and he is doing very well with conservatives, who at least for now appear to have found a candidate," pollster John Zogby said. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has led most national polls since early in the year, saw his support drop from 29 percent to 23 percent in the survey. His one-point lead over Huckabee was well within the poll's 4.8 percentage point margin of error. Huckabee moved ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was in third place at 16 percent, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson at 13 percent, Arizona Sen. John McCain at 12 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 4 percent. The groundswell for Huckabee, a Baptist minister with close ties to religious conservatives, has been fueled in part by his growing support among that key party constituency. Among likely Republican voters who say they are "very conservative," Huckabee drew the support of 43 percent, with Thompson second at 20 percent and Romney third at 16 percent. Those voters who describe themselves as "born again" gave Huckabee the lead at 33 percent, with McCain in second at 17 percent and Romney with 14 percent. The number of undecided likely Republican voters dropped from 21 percent last month to 9 percent. The race remains fluid enough to be shaped dramatically by the results in Iowa on January 3 and New Hampshire, where voters go to the polls on January 8. "Voters are starting to at least pay attention and identify with someone," Zogby said. "But it doesn't mean they have made up their minds for good." READ IT ALL


Anonymous said...

Cost of drug rehab (outpatient) vs. cost of prison? I think a fiscal conservative would prefer the former.

johnny phenothiazine said...

anon said the same thing I clicked to say; the one minor flaw in your fine article is that in fact it's a whole lot cheaper for society to keep an addict in a rehab than in a prison, even when you compare in-house treatment in rehab clinics to prison. American prisons are ridiculously expensive, public-funded rehab clinics not so much.

The obvious exception to that is the sort of luxury "rehab" spa that tabloid celebrities check into between booze-and-cocaine binges, but those are hardly representative of real rehab places. Anyway tax-payers don't pay the outsized leisure-class fees for those. Their government subsidies are judicial, not financial; when a Rush Limbaugh or a Lindsay Lohan checks in the courts award them a free get-out-of-jail card that ordinary drug criminals can only dream of.

As for out-patients, their expense to society is measured in negative numbers, as guys on methadone can and do get jobs and pay taxes.

Anonymous said...

Huckabee's appeal is extremely narrow, i.e. white religious right; it's also the group that would most readily respond to a populist message with a "God and country" theme. His surge in the polls is due to the evolving realization among this group that he is the only candidate that directly represents their interest.

mnuez said...

Hi, I need you to help me run my campaign.

You say all that I've been saying. It's strange that I've never yet heard anyone say what I've been shouting to anything with ears but the facts are that I haven't (the "excesses" of Stalin's "Communism" may have something to do with that). What you write may or may not be common discourse in Europe but in the US no one says it. In fact there's no political discussion of any sort to speak of in the US. You pick a team (Republicans or Democrats) and you defend them. They're your family, no political conversation or debate is needed. What passes for debate here is something like a Hindu and a Muslim screaming at each other - no one is considering switching teams. and if by miracle someone does, he's gotta buy ALL of his new team's positions - on every subject. (He'll do it over three years, to appear less obvious.)

Anyhow, it's nice to meet you.