There’s an old expression that talks about finding out how the sausage is made. The general idea is that people are usually fine with the outcome, but when they take a look at the process that goes into creating the outcome, they suddenly lose their appetite. Sausage seems to be number one on that lists of products that people don’t want to watch being made. Government might soon replace sausage on that lists.
A political history of the United States would demonstrate a rise and fall of what we would call populism. Populism takes on many forms. On the left you would have something we would call progressive-ism. Progressive-ism is different than liberalism. The difference clearly is how it stands outside of the establishment. Theodore Roosevelt was the embodiment of that movement. We saw more consumer protections and saw more economic protections in that era than any other in history.
Modern progressive-ism is the continuation of that philosophy. Naturally, that movement is going to gain steam as we see the fall out from the Supreme Court’s Citizen Bank United decision. Comedian Robin Williams joked recently that Congresspeople should be forced to wear NASCAR jackets with all of their corporate sponsors/donors on their jackets so we could all see who has bought and sold their vote. Right or wrong, I think of Bernie Sanders when I think of this movement. He isn’t a Democrat as much as he might be a Socialist. That label would scare too many away from a national run, but listen to him speak and a lot of it makes sense.
The other movement would be the Libertarian movement. Libertarians seem to fluctuate in popularity and now they are on the upswing. The Tea Party movement began here, but it became bastardized when establishment Republicans got control of it. Ron Paul is the natural head of this movement. Like Sanders, he is unelectable nationally, but his ideas seem to resonate with a lot of people. Of course, the idea here is simply minimal government. Minimal government means minimal taxes (a huge Republican stronghold), but it also means minimal regulation of things like drugs and heavy handed social law (a huge Democratic stronghold).
The irony is that both groups overlap on several issues. The primary issue where they overlap is on the issue of campaign finance. The way they get to their views on that issue may differ slightly, but the solution might be a common one. The issue of course is that populists don’t compromise. Once you compromise you cease to be a populist. That’s what happens for guys like Sanders and Paul. They remain immensely popular with the folks that follow them because they remain true to their principals. Remaining true to their principals has the effect of marginalizing their impact on the Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
This of course brings us to the establishment itself. When one finds out how the sausage is made, they have a few choices at their disposal. First, they can continue to eat the sausage even though they have been disgusted by the process. Secondly, they could completely eschew the sausage in favor of a substitute good. Finally, you can become more active and seek a better way to make the sausage.
Whether it be inherent racism, institutional racism, or the hype of right-wing propaganda, the election of Barack Obama woke up a lot of people to how the sausage is made. They have become disgusted and want to find a new way. Some have the wisdom to realize that this a constant process while others attribute it to Obama himself. Either way, a little bit of knowledge is often a dangerous thing. Blissful ignorance is easy for all concerned, but peal a little off the top and suddenly it’s like stomping on a fire ant bed in the yard.
The history of populism is a depressing one for those within those movements. Simply put, they don’t last. The best you can hope for is to get the establishment to co-op certain facets of your platform for their own. The other depressing part is that some people buy into central figures like Barack Obama and John Boehner as representative of those movements only to find out that they are establishment politicians. They get things done, but no one seems to like it. Their staunch supporters feel like they have been sold out while their opponents remember the rhetoric and don’t actually pay attention to the output. It’s a tough road to travel on, but the end result is likely more productive than remaining true to whatever principals were espoused in the rhetoric.