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Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008 01:01 am

Sarah Palin, faux populist


"Perfect populist pitch," beamed CBS analyst Jeff Greenfield right after Sarah Palin's big speech at the GOP fawnfest in St. Paul, Minn. "She's a populist," echoed Karl Rove over at Fox TV.

Excuse me? Palin is to populism what near beer is to beer, only not as close.

You want a taste of the real thing? Try this from another woman who hailed from a small town and was renowned for her political oratory:

"Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street. ...Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. ...The people are at bay, let the bloodhounds of money who have dogged us thus far beware."

That, my media friends, is populism! It comes from Mary Ellen Lease's speech to the national convention of the Populist Party in 1890. Lease spoke all across the land, rallying a fast-spreading grass-roots revolt against the corporate predators of her day. "Raise less corn and more hell," she urged farmers.

Populists don't support opening our national parks and coastlines to allow the ExxonMobils to take publicly owned oil and sell it to China. Palin does. Populists don't hire corporate lobbyists to deliver a boatload of earmarked federal funds, then turn around and claim to be a heroic opponent of earmarks. Palin did. Populists don't favor giving yet another huge tax break to corporations. Palin does.

Another thing populists don't do is sneer at community organizers, as Palin did. Indeed, populists of old were community organizers, as are today's, helping empower ordinary folks who are besieged by the avarice and arrogance of many of the corporations backing Palin. Working for such needs as clean elections, environmental justice and fair wages, community organizers embody the vitality of modern populism, doing the essential grunt-level work of democracy. What gives Palin any legitimacy to denigrate that?

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