Friday, September 09, 2011

Sarah the populist 

The New York Times is running an interesting op-ed about Sarah Palin and her anti-"large" populism. Here is the heart of it, but read it all:

She made three interlocking points. First, that the United States is now governed by a “permanent political class,” drawn from both parties, that is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people. Second, that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create what she called “corporate crony capitalism.” Third, that the real political divide in the United States may no longer be between friends and foes of Big Government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private).

In supporting her first point, about the permanent political class, she attacked both parties’ tendency to talk of spending cuts while spending more and more; to stoke public anxiety about a credit downgrade, but take a vacation anyway; to arrive in Washington of modest means and then somehow ride the gravy train to fabulous wealth. She observed that 7 of the 10 wealthiest counties in the United States happen to be suburbs of the nation’s capital.

Her second point, about money in politics, helped to explain the first. The permanent class stays in power because it positions itself between two deep troughs: the money spent by the government and the money spent by big companies to secure decisions from government that help them make more money.

“Do you want to know why nothing ever really gets done?” she said, referring to politicians. “It’s because there’s nothing in it for them. They’ve got a lot of mouths to feed — a lot of corporate lobbyists and a lot of special interests that are counting on them to keep the good times and the money rolling along.”

Because her party has agitated for the wholesale deregulation of money in politics and the unshackling of lobbyists, these will be heard in some quarters as sacrilegious words.

Ms. Palin’s third point was more striking still: in contrast to the sweeping paeans to capitalism and the free market delivered by the Republican presidential candidates whose ranks she has yet to join, she sought to make a distinction between good capitalists and bad ones. The good ones, in her telling, are those small businesses that take risks and sink and swim in the churning market; the bad ones are well-connected megacorporations that live off bailouts, dodge taxes and profit terrifically while creating no jobs.

The punchline:
Strangely, she was saying things that liberals might like, if not for Ms. Palin’s having said them.


While I am a self-identified corporate tool and oppose the criminalization or even demonization of business even when the target is Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil, I completely agree that the largest multinationals are hardly spokesmen for American employers. Barack Obama's reliance for business advice on Jamie Dimon and Jeffrey Immelt is wrongheaded not because they are evil or dishonest, but because they are not dependent on the American market per se. Indeed, regulatory burdens fall less heavily on huge companies than small ones because big companies have the scale to absorb the incremental overhead. Therefore, regulation often serves to entrench market-leaders, who are rarely the firms who are adding incremental employees. Palin is right, therefore, that big business and big government are in something of a self-interested conspiracy. This has been true since the earliest days of big business in America, but it is intolerable when the economy is not growing and there are so many unemployed.

On the question of campaign finance "reform," the difference between the populist left and the populist right comes down to this: The populist left believes that we should limit the political rights of certain speakers that they disfavor (business, but not labor, environmental groups, advocates for world government, or the legacy media) because business speech will bend government to objectives with which the left disagrees. The populist right believes that (i) we should not disarm one side of any argument (and in any case the First Amendment forbids it) and (ii) some interest will "capture" just about any government expenditure, so it is important to keep government as small as possible.

Finally, I think the author's punchline -- that Palin says things that "liberals might like, if not for Ms. Palin's having said them" -- is slightly wrong. It would be more accurate by some margin if he replaced "liberals" with "Democrats." Today's liberals (as opposed to the old Left of days gone by) love huge institutions. See, for example, the reverence on the left for world government. Liberals -- but not all Democrats -- more or less believe that the foreign policy of the United States is not legitimate unless some international agency approves of it. More importantly, many of the issues that most vex liberals -- anthropogenic global warming, for example -- seem to require highly centralized solutions from the United Nations and similar undemocratic interventions. Many rank-and-file Democrats, on the other hand, are not big fans of the UN, either.

Finally, Glenn Reynolds archly observed that Palin's potential substantive appeal to certain Democrats explains "why it was so important to thoroughly demonize her right up front." Er, indeed.

Release the hounds.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Sep 09, 10:09:00 AM:

I always thought The Clinton's were behind the downfall of Obama, that their plan was to have Hilary come to the rescue of the Democrat Party. Now maybe their plan is more clear. I think Hilary's ambitions are more Global, ie UN, IMF, etc. I am thinking Bill would love nothing more than to go up against Sarah Palin on a Global level and let her take down the establishment Republican Party. No love lost there. Notice the change in attitude at CNN and NYT. These attitudes did not change without a few well placed words from The Clintons.  

By Anonymous Dennis, at Fri Sep 09, 10:17:00 AM:

Some time ago, in a research effort for a project I was working on, I had occassion to read a book called "The Triumph of Conservatism" by Gabriel Kolko. In one chapter he recounts the unrestrained competition that was rife in the country in the period up to andduring the Victorian Era. The various business "Barons" tried mightely to form various "combines" to keep from killing all of them off, only to fail because one or several would try to take advantage and cut the others' throats. They finally realized that their only hope for survival was to have the ederal govt. referee the scrum. Hence, finally, the creation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. That could be said to be he first instance of crony capitalism in this country )in fact, it set the ground rules for crony capitalism) and, with the current administration, we are seeing the culmination where the government itself pulls the strings for purposes far more insidious than that of maintaining the viability of non-competitive companies.

Palin is right. Is there any part of business that govt. can't screw up just by getting involved?  

By Blogger Arthurmich, at Fri Sep 09, 10:17:00 AM:

Jack - Sarah Palin has courted her image well - the media didnt put the "pit bull in lipstick" line in her mouth - she did. Pretty much everything she's said for the last three years has been pandering to the far right. Her message appears to be more "populist" than centrist but that has largely been the province of the left (except for guns). Campaigning against government has never been easier. Congress is a large a den of iniquity as it has ever been. EVER. The presidency and Supreme Court are only slightly less  

By Blogger Stephen, at Fri Sep 09, 10:41:00 AM:

First Clarence Thomas. Then Sarah Palin. Who's next for a NYT reappraisal, GWB? The devil's teeth are chattering.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Sep 09, 12:11:00 PM:

Something important might well be happening to the Democrat party, and if it continues it could be a happy event for us all.

This thoughful NYT piece did not mention Progressives or Progressive ideals. Instead, the author started from a position critical of those people with closed minds, and while he didn't mention Progressives specifically that's who he means to describe, and goes on to suggest that plenty of center ground exists between Tea Party ideas and traditional Democrat ideas.

I welcome anti-Progressivism, from whatever source (even the NYT), and if we start to see more of this sort of conversation on the left I would become lots more confident about our future.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Fri Sep 09, 03:41:00 PM:

Leo Linbeck III commenting at Belmont Club says this about the centralization of power in DC:

"I have been working closely of late with folks from that end of the ideological spectrum. And things are starting to happen; the tectonic plates are straining, and are about to start moving. The “honest left” – of which there are MANY – have started to realize that they have lost the fight inside their movement with the forces of centralization."

You can read the rest of his comments here:


By Anonymous Robert Arvanitis, at Sat Sep 10, 07:52:00 AM:

Important difference.

GE and Goldman are bad advisors for Obama because they have insulated themselves from market forces, NOT because they are “international.”

Say what you will about Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs, or the very early Buffett; they earned their money by pleasing consumers, creating products, or taking risks. (There is also “survivor fallacy” at work with early Buffett.)

But Prince at Citi, O’Neal at Merrill, and the later Buffett did NOT please consumers, create products or take risks. They merely seduced a few directors and gamed a skewed system.

Likewise, early pharmas first made money creating new drugs. But then the FDA built up a staggering honey-pot of value, in its regulatory power. And in the free market tradition, pharmas turned from pleasing consumers and creating products, to capturing that new source of value.

See, the free markets always work, when we define the market properly. And today, ironically, that extends the traditional market to include government itself. The referee is now part of the game.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Sat Sep 10, 10:44:00 AM:

The New York Times piece --
Some of Sarah Palin's Ideas Cross the Political Divide
-- makes many of the same points that I've been making about Sarah. Sarah is the best voice out there right now for a new kind of populism. She's been doing this for some time, but as The Times says: "many of us ... fail to hear it". This includes much of the Republican Establishment, who don't want to hear it. I'm looking at you Karl Rove, etc, etc.

This doesn't mean she should be President. "Her voice is too high it has no authority" But she does have something to say. And it's honest.

So far, Rick shows signs that he may be "honest" and not just another politician.

Nothing Barrack says is "honest". I'd say the same about Mitt. Which is why I liken the two.

Comparing Sarah to Barrack is absurd. I'm looking at you Ann Coulter.  

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