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A Proposal For Enlightened Populism
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

We're an angry nation. All the polls say so. In the earlier part of the century it was apparent that when the public finally shook off its lethargy and discovered the gravity of its situation, there would be repercussions. Progressives already had eight years of anger under their belt. The anger escalated with each new assault: yellowcake uranium, Shock and Awe, the Patriot Act, FISA intelligence gathering, Abu Ghraib and torture, radical conservative Justices John Roberts and Sam Alito. We spoke of taking the country back, loosening the militaristic and corporatist grip the government had on our lives and futures. When Bush won a second term, I fretted that the Neocon meme would be coded into our consciousness to taint a generation. Lefties worried that the public seemed dazed and compliant. A new word made its way into blogs and articles: sheeple.

After eight years of anger, the resolve to change the nation's direction came too late to avoid the systemic meltdown that Bush handed over to the new president. Suddenly, from the seemingly content void on the right, arose the sounds of anger. Disproportionate waves of disdain and hatred -- toward the government, toward the liberals and especially toward Barack Obama -- filled the airwaves. Calling themselves a populist uprising, Tea Baggers now gather to express how angry they are. One might almost think they have much in common with progressives. The basic tenets of populism that pit little folks against the ruling elite should resonate with all of us.

Baggers ooze with hostility for those who corrupt the Constitution and take advantage of the average citizen. They speak passionately about being "we, the people," but their commonalities with the average citizen end there. They are far less concerned about corporate power than about governmental redistribution of wealth. They are far less disturbed by militarism than by personal tax obligation. They're vehement about their constitutional right to bear weapons but indifferent to judicial activism that gives corporations the rights of personhood. The explanation is simple. They're not populists; they're well-off conservatives in sheeple's clothing.

Polls indicate that Tea Party activists do not fit the demographic that we think of as working class: 20 percent have incomes in excess of $100,000 and 37 percent hold college or graduate degrees. Followers of this 'populist uprising' are also doing quite well: 55 percent of supporters enjoy incomes of $50,000 or more and only 19 percent earn less than $30,000. When it was announced that 95 percent of Americans paid lower taxes this year while almost half paid nothing at all, Tea Baggers raged that low-lifes and lay-abouts received handouts from the government again. Grover Norquist -- who famously articulated the conservative intention to whittle government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub" -- gave Baggers their rallying cry at a D.C. gathering on Tax Day: "Leave our earnings alone!"

Those on the right who make such pronouncements 'for the people,' speak primarily for themselves. Senator John Kyle told FOX News that the GOP would fight any nominee "who might stick up for the little guy," a position he called "overly ideological." To conservatives, the 'little guy' means those whose income is too small to tax, those who collect benefits from the government -- including Social Security and Medicare, although they don't shout this from the rooftops, fearing backlash -- and all who are not white, male, straight or Christian. The Baggers are, in fact, products of the very elitist ruling class that they pretend to attack. They were never prepared for Obama to win, and they can thank their own overconfident propaganda machine for that unhappy November surprise.

We are caught at cross-purposes in this nation. The majority want to return the country to a saner trajectory. The minority refuse to take responsibility for the policies devised in their own think tanks and foisted upon the public by their own politicians. The Party of No opposes insurance reform and extensions of unemployment assistance, and fights financial reform, immigration reform and a Supreme Court nomination. How can average Republicans support positions that are so at odds with their own best interests?

When a nation is struggling, when the people are hurting, some look for a common enemy -- and some manufacture one. The GOP uses FOX and hate radio to spread a sense of victimization and bolster anger. Even the mildest of their audience are radicalized by the constant din of propaganda. In FoxWorld, Obama is not an American citizen and therefore never eligible under the Constitution to be president; ergo, the entirety of this government is fraudulent. In FoxWorld, all liberals are welfare recipients who pick the pockets of decent, hardworking Americans. In FoxWorld, fear always trumps rationality. This is the road the Baggers' bus is taking, the only road heading in the Republican direction. The cooler heads in the GOP, the moderates and conservative intellectuals, have thrown up their hands and left the bus.

While American culture has been moving steadily left for more than thirty years, American politics have been slipping to the right. The Supreme Court, a branch of government with enormous influence over our lives, has become more conservative with each nomination since FDR left power. A good example of this slow erosion is the career of retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. According to Dan Froomkin, "Stevens's unblinking devotion to human rights, civil rights, and the rights of the little guy have led him to be widely seen as the Last Great Liberal Justice." He is also the last of the moderate Republicans nominated by Poppy Bush. Liberal stalwart David Souter, recently replaced by Sonia Sotomayor, was another. Our judiciary has shifted so far to the right that the great liberal justices of our time are actually conservatives.

What we need is to spark a new version of liberal populism. We have learned a great deal in the last decade, and we've prepared ourselves on many levels to meet the challenges of the next. The shifting astrology provides us with a fresh perspective, specifically the move of Chiron into Pisces that can bring a wave of spiritual awareness into the mix. The 'empathy' that Obama called for in the Sotomayor nomination is imperative to combat the waves of fear we're being fed by those who are locked into selfish human expression.

These are not just troubled times, they're troubling in ways we may be too exhausted to recognize. When so renowned a political observer as Noam Chomsky thinks we're at a trigger point, I pay attention. He argues that we must attend history very carefully if we are to bring fresh skills and awareness to our current problems. Fear and denial make us reactionary and rash. We must recognize them in ourselves, even as we condemn them in our adversaries. As we wrestle for the soul of the nation, we may not know the future, but we can surely intuit the difference between life affirming national policy and exploitation. We must hold that line for those who will awaken in the coming months and years. The best way to predict the future is to create it.

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