-- by Dave
One important factor that emerged from last night's vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden was the way Palin clearly cast herself -- and by inference, the McCain/Palin ticket -- as essentially populist in their appeal. But it's specifically a right-wing kind of populism.
This wasn't terribly surprising to me. I spent the earlier part of this week in the Wasilla area, and I frequently heard from people on all sides of Alaska's various political aisles that Palin, above all, is in fact a populist. I heard this from a former Republican legislator I met at a roadside stop and from a progressive Alaskan activist -- as well as from various locals I met about town. Even among the less articulate bar patrons, the refrain was consistent: "She's for the people, that's what she's about."
At the same time, it was indisputable that she has always practiced a specifically right-wing kind of populism: socially and fiscally conservative, business-friendly, and hostile to progressive causes.
Now, one of the many conceits of Jonah Goldberg's incoherent screed, Liberal Fascism, was that populism by nature was an inherently a left-wing phenomenon. As I explained at the time, populism in fact historically has seen both left- and right-wing permutations in America. Some of the more notable cases of right-wing populism range from Bacon's Rebellion to the Ku Klux Klan to the modern-day Posse Comitatus and militia/Patriot movements.
Not that Palin's populism is necessarily swimming in those same cesspools, but it is clearly the same kind of creature. It's still in the early phases of its popularity, so it's hard to tell what kind of shape it will mature into; but given the traditional, ah, flexibility with which right-wing populists apply the term "the people" (especially when it comes to economic classes), just about anything is possible.
Here, from last night's debate, are her various attempts to cast herself and McCain as essentially populist (the main giveaway being her references to "the people"):
Now, Barack Obama, of course, he's pretty much only voted along his party lines. In fact, 96 percent of his votes have been solely along party line, not having that proof for the American people to know that his commitment, too, is, you know, put the partisanship, put the special interests aside, and get down to getting business done for the people of America.
We're tired of the old politics as usual. And that's why, with all due respect, I do respect your years in the U.S. Senate, but I think Americans are craving something new and different and that new energy and that new commitment that's going to come with reform.
... One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars. We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings and we need also to not get ourselves in debt. Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card. Don't live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals we're taking personal responsibility through all of this. It's not the American peoples fault that the economy is hurting like it is, but we have an opportunity to learn a heck of a lot of good lessons through this and say never again will we be taken advantage of.
... Barack had 94 opportunities to side on the people's side and reduce taxes and 94 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction, 94 times.
... I'm still on the tax thing because I want to correct you on that again. And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.
... And that's why Tillerson at Exxon and Mulva at ConocoPhillips, bless their hearts, they're doing what they need to do, as corporate CEOs, but they're not my biggest fans, because what I had to do up there in Alaska was to break up a monopoly up there and say, you know, the people are going to come first and we're going to make sure that we have value given to the people of Alaska with those resources.
... So there hasn't been a whole lot that I've promised, except to do what is right for the American people, put government back on the side of the American people, stop the greed and corruption on Wall Street.
... Positive change is coming, though. Reform of government is coming. We'll learn from the past mistakes in this administration and other administrations.
And we're going to forge ahead with putting government back on the side of the people and making sure that our country comes first, putting obsessive partisanship aside.
... What I would do also, if that were to ever happen, though, is to continue the good work he is so committed to of putting government back on the side of the people and get rid of the greed and corruption on Wall Street and in Washington.
I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C.
So that people there can understand how the average working class family is viewing bureaucracy in the federal government and Congress and inaction of Congress.
Just everyday working class Americans saying, you know, government, just get out of my way. If you're going to do any harm and mandate more things on me and take more of my money and income tax and business taxes, you're going to have a choice in just a few weeks here on either supporting a ticket that wants to create jobs and bolster our economy and win the war or you're going to be supporting a ticket that wants to increase taxes, which ultimately kills jobs, and is going to hurt our economy.
... People aren't looking for more of the same. They are looking for change. And John McCain has been the consummate maverick in the Senate over all these years.
He's taken shots left and right from the other party and from within his own party, because he's had to take on his own party when the time was right, when he recognized it was time to put partisanship aside and just do what was right for the American people.
Of course, Barack Obama's campaign indulges a certain amount of left-wing populism as well, but it's largely framed within a traditionalist context. However, the clear reshaping of the Republican Party under the McCain/Palin ticket as essentially a right-wing populist entity is well worth noting.
And if I had to guess -- especially judging by the way right-wingers are swooning over her winking at them -- Sarah Palin's career as a populist is just getting started, even if she and McCain lose in November. Considering that one of the chief reasons right-wing populism in America has not succeeded in recent decades is that it has lacked a charismatic figurehead, well, she certainly bears close watching.
[Thanks to Blue Texan for the image idea.]