Andrew Clark: Beware The Populist

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We’re all populists now? Well, certainly no one at GW is.

The word populism has been floated around in recent weeks to describe the seething public anger towards “mega-bonuses” paid to “greedy” AIG executives, the growing hostility to banks and the public outcry that the word “bailout” is rapidly becoming a loaded word for government subsidizing of evil, corporate, big business welfare.

Rasmussen Reports, a reliable polling firm, has identified this trend, and has come up with a formula that determines who is a populist by asking three questions: whose judgment do you trust more, the American people or their political leaders? Has the federal government become a special interest group? Do government and big business work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?

If you answer American people, yes, and yes, you’re considered a populist, and Rasmussen found that a full 57 percent answered that way. Only 7 percent answered opposite, which Rasmussen dubs the political class.

Of course, most GW students probably agree with at least one of those questions, and may be able to identify themselves as technically a “populist”. But if we look at ourselves, we will find that at GW we might be populists, but outside in the real world we most certainly are not seen that way.

Thousands of us want to work in government (the populists say the people know better). Thousands of us want to work for special interest groups and non-profits (which the populists don’t trust anymore). Thousands of us want to work for businesses, banks and law firms, which populists say work together with the government to screw consumers.

One could argue that according to the true populist, all of us are going to be working together in the future to screw the rest of America up the rear.

Joe-the-Plumber taunts us yet again, yet this time, he’s probably in the majority.

The populist rage transcends political partisanship: the bailout is a Republican brainchild, but the Democrats spent even more, and the AIG controversy happened on Obama’s watch. The populists’ rage isn’t directed at one party or the other. It’s not just anti-Republican (sorry liberals), nor just anti-Obama (sorry conservatives). Obama is viewed just as cozy with Wall Street as Bush and the Republicans were.

Now, before my usual critics hound me, know that I do not want to debate the economic facts, because frankly the facts don’t matter. You and I could have a cup of coffee in Starbucks and probably have a rational discussion about the economic crisis, agree that Obama’s AIG situation is being overblown (please, spare me the feigned outrage), and that more bailouts may be necessary.

But none of that matters when an angry mob with knives and pitchforks is pounding on the glass outside. That’s what makes populism so unique, and possibly scary.

Yes, it’s possible that Rasmussen is over-judging the political climate, and that all of this will die down. But what if it doesn’t? What if 57 percent of the population is angry enough to abandon traditional political divides for a candidate that rails against the establishment? Against greedy CEOs and big government, big business and elites, smug liberal college students, special interests, Wall Street and the like? Who has enough charisma and popular appeal to connect with people like that? Could the political populist turmoil we’re about to experience be paving a political comeback for Sarah Palin?

You may treat this as good news or bad news, but it is certainly not the only political possibility.

One thing is certain, GW: beware the populist.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist and a member of the College Republicans executive board.

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