Monday, October 26, 2015

Response to Fresh Eyes

(See: Just Above Sunset: Fresh Eyes)

It's a no-brainer that being president is not brain surgery. And this is exactly why Dr. Ben Carson, the brain surgeon, is not qualified to be president, any more than Barack Obama, the president, is qualified to be a brain surgeon.

That all may be obvious to you and me, but it probably isn't to the populists who support Carson. Among all the things that populists believe is, you don't need to be particularly smart to know how to do big things, and it certainly doesn't take an experienced politician to run a nation of 320 million Americans, with the largest economy and military budget in the world. Anyone with good old common horse sense can probably pick that up after a week or so on the job.

And right there is one of the many reasons I'm not a big fan of populism. I think it's better to be smart than be popular. Case in point: Both Donald Trump and Ben Carson are very popular right now. I rest my case.

Yes, I realize leading in the polls is not really what is meant by "populism", but in fact, since "populism" has so often crossed party lines down through history, it's hard to know exactly what is meant by the word. I do think David Masciotra gets history slightly wrong in Salon:
The debate and dichotomy between populism and elitism has its origins in the foundation of the United States. Alexander Hamilton believed that an educated-elite should legislate and lead with the consent of the governed, while Thomas Jefferson envisioned a “nation of farmers” in which the power of ordinary people surges through the halls of capitol buildings everywhere.
Yes, Jefferson thought farmers like him and his fellow Virginians to be morally superior to the money-shuffling New Yorkers like Hamilton, but education is not where the two men differed; both of them were big believers in education, which means neither one of them was a populist. It should be remembered, after all, that near the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson founded a university, for godsake!

When you think of American populism, you think of William Jennings Bryan, who probably learned it at his father's knee. Bryan's father was Silas Bryan, a politician of Scots-Irish and English ancestry, and a fervent "Jacksonian" (as opposed to "Jeffersonian") Democrat:
Jackson's equal political policy became known as "Jacksonian Democracy", subsequent to ending what he termed a "monopoly" of government by elites. Jeffersonians opposed inherited elites but favored educated men while the Jacksonians gave little weight to education. The Whigs were the inheritors of Jeffersonian Democracy in terms of promoting schools and colleges.
With Jacksonian populism came some good, but also some not-so-good:
Even before the Jacksonian era began, suffrage had been extended to (nearly) all white male adult citizens, a result the Jacksonians celebrated. ... [but] Jackson's expansion of democracy was largely limited to Americans of European descent, and voting rights were extended to adult white males only. There was little or no progress for African-Americans and Native Americans (in some cases regress).
Forgetting political parties per se, traditional populism seems more at home among conservatives rather than liberals. Populist movements in this country tend to be crowds of peasants with pitchforks, from the rural farm areas, who don't like cities and don't care about your goddam education that makes you doubt God created us all in his image, and who don't like you elites just out to destroy capitalism with all your global warming talk.

For example, the bible-thumping anti-education crusader against teaching evolution,William Jennings Bryan, was a famous populist. Another was George Wallace. No, Bernie Sanders isn't really a populist; before you can be an American populist, you have to be a conservative. Populists are those people who don't know much about anything but know what they don't like.

There are no liberal populists in America, or at least that's the way it seems. And that's why I got no truck with populists.

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