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Thursday, July 1, 2010 09:08 am

Enter, real populists

Few people today call themselves populists, but I think most are. I’m not talking about the recent political outbursts by confused, used and abused tea-bag ranters who’ve been organized by corporate front groups to spread a hatred of government.

Rather, I mean the millions of ordinary Americans in every state who’re battling the real power that’s running roughshod over us: out-of-control corporations. With their oceans of money and their hired armies of lobbyists and lawyers, these self-serving, autocratic entities operate from faraway executive suites and Washington backrooms to rig the economic and governmental rules so that they can capture an ever-bigger share of America’s money and power.

You can yell yourself red-faced at Congress critters you don’t like and demand a government so small that it’d fit in the backroom of Billy Bob’s Bait Shop and Sushi Stand, but you won’t be touching the corporate and financial powers behind the throne. In fact, weak government is the political wet dream of corporate chieftains, which is why they’re so ecstatic to have the tea party out front for them. But the real issue isn’t small government, it’s good government. (Can I get an amen from Gulf Coast fishing families on that!?)

It’s necessary to restate the solid principles of populism and reassert its true spirit, because both are now being severely perverted by corporate manipulators and a careless media establishment. To these debasers of the language, any politicos or pundits who tap into any level of popular anger (toward Barack Obama, liberals, the IRS, poor people, unions, gays, immigrants, Hollywood, community organizers, environmentalists et al.) get a peel-off “populist” label slapped onto their lapels — even when their populist pose is funded by and operates as a front for one or another corporate interest. That’s not populism, it’s rank hucksterism — disguising plutocrats as champions of the people.

Now is the time for progressives to reassert their populist beliefs and bona fides, for we’re living in a teachable moment in which it’s possible to reach most Americans with an aggressive and positive approach to achieving a higher level of economic and political democracy. There is a spreading and deepening recognition within today’s broad middle class that they’ve been abandoned to a plutocracy that feels free to knock them down and leave them there. The disdain that the power elites have for the rest of us is glaringly and gallingly apparent.

— Wall Street billionaires crash our economy but are bailed out at our expense to continue their banksterism against us.

— We’re told to accept a “jobless recovery” and to sit still for a “new normal” of perpetually low wages, continuing losses of American jobs, and steady erosion of union and consumer power.

— We’re presented with two flagrant examples of murderous corporate greed —first, at Massey Energy’s deadly coal mine, then at BP’s deadly offshore oilwell — yet no corporate executive has even been arrested.

Do the Powers That Be (whether liberal or conservative) really imagine that the great majority of Americans don’t see or don’t care about this rank classism, this in-your-face stiffing of the middle class?

This is where populists come in. You wouldn’t know it from the corporate media, but in just about every town or city in our land you can find some groups or coalitions that, instead of merely shouting at politicians, have come together to find their way around, over or through the blockages that big money has put in the way of their democratic aspirations. In the process of organizing, strategizing and mobilizing, these groups are building relationships and community, creating something positive from a negative.

With the rebellious spirit and sense of hope that have defined America from the start, these populists are directly challenging the plutocratic order that reigns over us. This populism is unabashedly a class movement — one that seeks not merely to break the iron grip that centralized corporate power has on our country, but also to build cooperative democratic structures so that ordinary people, not moneyed interests, define and control our country’s economic and political possibilities.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.
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