The ball got rolling this week with a massive feature in the New Republic. Written by Noam Scheiber, it's about the potential threat to presumptive 2016 favorite Hillary Clinton ("Congressional Republicans have spent months investigating [Hillary] like she already resides in the White House," writes Scheiber) posed by a would-be "populist" candidacy of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Scheiber's basic point is that voters are really pissed about the economy and the behavior of big banks, and that Hillary, who along with her husband have been serial gobblers of Wall Street money and finance-industry water-carriers since before House of Pain released "Jump Around," may in 2016 have something to fear from Warren, a candidate who has built a career pointing out what total assholes the Clintons' chief financial backers are.
Warren, Scheiber writes, is so far out of the political mainstream on the finance issue that she was once willing to submarine a Banking Committee hearing by violating longstanding Beltway decorum – an unwritten rule in which members of Congress may "rant and rave at length, but generally abstain from humiliating appointees, especially from their own party."
The reference here was to the YouTube-famous moment when Warren "humiliated" the heads of regulatory agencies like the OCC and the Fed by simply asking them about the last time they took on any of the world's biggest financial institutions (hint: none of them could remember). ...
So far, so good. Warren sounds like a person to take seriously, although Scheiber has tarred her with the "populist" label, a term which I've been seeing tossed about lately as if it has some pejorative meaning never fully spelled out, and I admit that I have not bothered to try to find out what they have intended by use of the term (knowing its history myself and being capable of making up my own mind without the media's linguistic revisionism), but I have noticed it. But wait. The story doesn't end with Scheiber's article:
This piece instantly inspired a slew of pooh-poohing editorials, including a weirdly insulting and premature Slate rebuttal ... and a correspondingly dismissive blog yesterday in the New York Times by the Gray Lady's cardboard conservative, Ross Douthat. ...
Most annoyingly, all three use the term "populist" with varying degrees of derisiveness, describing public anger on the finance issue as "maniacal," based on "passions" and an impractical starting point for a candidate looking for an angle to capture a national election ...
Aha, Matt points out this use of "populist" and begins to explain what these writers mean. He continues:
Weigel went so far as to say that voters who are seeking a populist alternative for president should wake up from their impractical, "dreamy" aspirations and get over making a presidential race a "test kitchen for policy change." ...
The latest linguistic fad is to describe a candidate as being prone to making "populist appeals," a concept nearly as nuts as that ostensible single horizontal line of all possible beliefs. Only in the Beltway do they have to come up with a special term to describe the inexplicable (to them) phenomenon of a politician who advocates for his actual constituents, instead of just whoring along the usual career track like everyone else. ...
I do so appreciate this bit, not only for the light which Taibbi shines on this new fascination with labeling some political figures as "populists," but also for his reference to the False Dilemma of the single horizontal line continuum which has obscured discussion of ideologies both economic and political (to say nothing of cultural, social, religious, and so on), by attempting to reduce everything to a Bifurcation Fallacy in which everyone can be categorized as "Left" or "Right" (with a tenebrous "Middle" never fully understood or explained satisfactorily, nor given much credence), and in which "Liberal" is almost invariably conflated with "Left" and "Conservative" with "Right." To describe such a False Dilemma as "simplistic" does not even begin to encapsulate the trouble with the limited (and limiting) paradigm. But this is a matter for another time, and I'll eventually post my as-yet-unfinished article on the subject, wherein I shall go into greater detail as to why this Black-and-White Thinking is harmful. The article continues:
This time around, though, campaign reporters may be surprised to discover that this very typecasting language now mostly just pisses off your more alert and attentive media consumer ...
I have no idea if Warren will run, or if she'd win if she did. She has my vote, but that's beside the point. What's interesting right now is how consistently offensive the media's analysis of her "populist" approach has been.
Washington leaders and the pundits they hang out with have been living for so long in a world where elected officials don't make decisions based upon what's right for the public that they now automatically assume that any politician who does is either up to something, or has some kind of deep-seated character flaw/mental defect.
There's a lot more, but I cannot provide the full text here. I simply cannot praise this article enough. This is Taibbi at his finest. Yes, he tosses a few ad Hominem characterizations into the mix, but it's excusable (at least this time around, although it has not always been so in some of his past articles); it would be a challenge indeed to discuss some of this without referring to at least a few people as "morons." And what's more, if he has demonstrated that they have been being foolish (and he has at least provided some evidence of this), his use of "morons" is entirely justified (possibly even to the point of these insults not being examples of fallacy; not every "insult" is an Abusive ad Hominem, even in Philosophical discussion, if cause has been shown for use of such terms). Of course, Logic is not the standard by which political discourse in this society measures itself (more's the pity); it's mostly Rhetoric, and Matt Taibbi has managed to elude much use of the sophists' preferred discipline this time around and still make his points perfectly clear.
Anyway, here's the full article, which I urge you to read in its entirety:
Campaign 2016: The Dumb Season Starts Early
Related (from Jim Hightower's Commentaries):
Peeking under the Big Top at this year's three-ring election circus
Update/Related (again from Jim Hightower's Commentaries):
Wall Street warns Democrats: Avoid Populism!