Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Complicated Conservative Populism

John Judis is a smart guy, but I think he goes partly wrong in his description of left and right working-class populism - at least when in the context of 2010 politics.  Judis describes left populism as resentment of speculators.  Fair enough maybe, but his description of right-wing working class populism as targeting primarily "out-groups" who are "seen as trying to deprive workers of their jobs and earning." falls short as a description of conservative working-class populism at the moment.

On the drive home, I sometimes listen to Howie Carr.  He is kinda the voice of conservative working-class populism in Eastern Massachusetts.  There are alot of digs against illegal immigrants, but not all, or even most of this populist resentment is directed downwards at "out" groups.  At least as much hostility is directed at Washington politicians, public employee unions, ideologically biased journalists at prestige outlets like the New York Times and the major broadcast networks, and businesses that stand to benefit from cap and trade.  The greatest targets of criticism are upper middle-class liberals - or as Carr constantly calls them, "the beautiful people".  They are portrayed as eager to remake society to their liking, but confident in their ability to escape whatever negative consequences their plans produce. 

There is alot to criticize in Carr's worldview, but he has found an audience.  The expansion of government has created an expanded governing class and ever more client and allied groups - many of them much more connected to power than your average working-class voter.  And they too are targets of current populist conservative resentment.


Categories > Conservatism

Discussions - 4 Comments

Pete. Thanks for your ruminations of populism. It seems that hating the government regardless of who is in power has become the default position. When those who hold office see themselves as "refining and enlarging" popular opinion in ways that satisfy immediate and particular grievances in ways that turn such grievances into expectations that can only be satisfied in and through legal, governmental and public measures.

As Tocqueville would have it, in order to have equality all must be the same, but does this not bring all down to the lowest common denominator?

I wonder if if this is not the same as Croesus's description to Solon regarding the holding of his rule.

To paraphrase: "See the wheat as it grows in a line? Some stalks rise above the level. Those rising stalks must be cut down in order to make them the same."

Likewise our teachers tell us, "Get along. You're no better." Such logic inevitably leads to looking to others like oneself to figure out what to do--even on the most important matters. This is populism (or mass conformism), and it may as well have it's outlet on talk radio.

"It seems that hating the government regardless of who is in power has become the default position."

And if one's goal is to make government so small that it could be drowned in a bathtub, that's a pretty good default position for people to be in.

From Wiki:

"Illegal-immigrant driver roll call

Carr has a frequent segment in which those traffic violators with Hispanic names are read from police blotters. The name of the offender is read in an exaggerated Spanish-accented English, along with the offender's traffic violation, typically including driving without a valid license, driving without proof of insurance, and/or driving without valid registration. After each name is read, the first few bars of "La Cucaracha" is played in a car-horn rendition. The segment is usually bookended around Carr's opinions on the dangers of illegal immigrants."

He sounds like a real charming fellow!

Craig, you are right and it really is nasty and its not the only example which is why I never endorsed his worldview. But if you actually want to understand the resentments of his audience (and not just the examples that butress a particular view right-populism) one has to look at his other targegts too.

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