The Populist Impulse and the Dialectical Defense of Democratic-Repulican Corporatist Government

The reinvigoration of the populist impulse in American politics has the potential to upend long-standing assumptions that form the basis of the cliches that pass for conventional wisdom among professional political commentators and liquidate the ossified structures that maintain the ruling balance of power in favor of the Democratic-Republican duopoly system of government. However, there is a grave danger that it will be appropriated by the partisans of the two-party state and put into the service of the political status quo. In two recent posts at the Think 3 Institute, Sam Wilson reflects on the reactions to what we might call the populist insurgency by commentators on both sides of the duopoly divide. In the first, he considers a piece by E.J. Dionne:
Liberal pundits would have people direct populist anger at the corporations who are momentarily expected to flood the airwaves with brainwashing propaganda. E. J. Dionne is a representative specimen. His latest column calls on Democrats to wage rhetorical war on corporate lobbyists and a "fake populism" that might be described as Teapublican. This "fake populism" focuses traditionally populist anti-"elite" hostility on the government instead of what Dionne deems its proper target, Wall Street.
In the second, Sam thinks through a column by David Brooks:
[Brooks notes that] that much of the supposed populism we see today doesn't come from the grass roots, but from the top down . . . As Brooks puts it: populists (or pseudo-populists) of both major parties "describe politics as a class struggle between the enlightened and the corrupt, the pure and the betrayers." Brooks is trying to warn both parties off the populist approach . . . When he describes the stupidity of 21st century populism, however, Brooks seems to be referring only to the anti-wealthy populism of liberals, progressives or Democrats, not the anti-"elitist" populism of Republicans, Tea Partiers and most conservatives. He does take a swipe at Sarah Palin's divisive populism, but his main beef against populism is over its fundamental hostility to concentrated wealth.
Though Sam considered these pieces separately, placing them side by side proves illuminating. Perhaps the simplest way to understand how Democratic-Republican politics channels the populist impulse to the benefit of the ruling order and the political status quo is to consider the ideological division of labor between the Democratic and Republican parties and the resulting dialectic. In the first moment, Democratic populists rail against the evils of big business while their Republican counterparts rail against the evils of big government. In the second moment, the partisan Republican construes Democratic populism as an implicit endorsement of big government while the partisan Democrat equates Republican populism with an implicit endorsement of big business. The outcome of this constellation is all too predictable. Because of their ideological investment in and political commitment to the ruling Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government, Democratic-Republican populism necessarily devolves into its opposite: the elitist defense of big government and big business. The end result of this dialectic is the reproduction of the ruling order, which is characterized, above all else, by corporatist government, crony capitalism and political cronyism.

Rhetorical opposition to the reigning Democratic-Republican political status quo is quickly becoming a condition for the reproduction of the reigning Democratic-Republican political status-quo.


Samuel Wilson said...

Thanks for the link and for a clarifying thought on a bipolarchy of "big government" and "big business" looming behind the bipolarchy of the major parties.

d.eris said...

No problem Sam. It seems like the populism discussion/debate may be with us for a bit longer. The corporate commentariat keep churning out the articles.