Populism

     Populism is a movement begun in the mid-1890s by farmers and other rural
residents at the time. It quickly gained strength and has undergone many changes
since then. It has not only changed in its views, but also in the political
parties who utilize it not as an ideology but rather as a mode of persuasion.

Populism is defined in the book as a language whose speakers see the American
people as one and not as a people bound by class restrictions, who see the elite
politicians who oppose them as self-serving, and who wish to bring these
"average Americans" together to fight against the overbearing powers
of the political elite. Populist speakers in the United States voiced their
discontent with elites who ignored, corrupted, or betrayed the ideal of American
democracy, which consisted of rule by the common people. After the farmers
created what we know as populism in the mid-1890s, there was a parting of the
ways. In the early twentieth century, farmers' enthusiasm waned but two other
groups' did not. These groups consisted of the wage earners and the evangelic
churchgoers. They argued that unions were now the best representation of the
"average man". At the same time, middle-class Protestants were
mounting campaigns as well.. This was the first transition of the populist
movement. . The second transition came in the late 1940s when populism began a
migration from Left to Right. Conservative groups and politicians altered the
speeches once given by reformers and radicals. Many reasons are given in the
book as to why this transition took place. Some of these included: the onset of
the Cold War, the fact that most white Americans came to see themselves as
middle-class consumers and taxpayers, and the growth of evangelical churches
whose political stance was as conservative as their theology. Gradually and
unevenly, a conservative populism emerged that promised to defend devout,
middle-class communities against the governing elite. Throughout the 1940s and

1950s, many experimented with this new shift in group. However, conservatives
did not fully understand populism's potential for persuasion during elections
until the 1960s. Mainly, this indoctrination came from George Wallace. Wallace
rallied up the south's people; "his" people. "His" people
had unglamorous jobs and a culture that treasured close families and a steady
faith in God and country. They were fed up and were going to turn this country
around. He managed to look and sound more like an ordinary, working American
than did anyone of distinction on the white Left. Unfortunately for Wallace,
though, his style made him seem part of the crisis rather than essential to
solving it. He was too authentically populist, too blunt and imprudent an outlet
for the anger of his followers to attract other voters who simply wanted the
nation's troubles to end. Nevertheless, beginning in the late 1960s,
conservative activists and politicians - mostly Republican - re-created
themselves as the true representatives of average white Americans. They learned
to breed the same mass resentments that George Wallace had spoken of but had
been unable to ride to victory. In order to achieve what Wallace had failed in
doing, a softening of his definition of "the people" was required.

Instead of suggesting a takeover by angry steelworkers and street cops,
conservatives announced their understanding of the concerns of the "silent
majority" of producers and consumers - taxpayers, white nationals,
housewives, "middle Americans" who felt betrayed by the New Left. By
the end of the 1960s there was a shared dislike, among most, of the governing
and cultural elite and its "supposed friends" in the ghettos and on
campus. By the late 1980s it was clear that the American conservatives had not
succeeded in establishing a new political order. The populist politician no
longer had the face of a conservative nor the face of a liberal. Populism had
jumped from the hands of the Left to the hands of the Right through time and
continues today as a movement striving to survive in a society in which
"populism" has even been used by advertisers as a fad. Populism is, in
my opinion, a necessary component of democracy today. However, I believe that
put to use in the appropriate manner is the only way in which it can be utilized
and exercised for the overall good of the "average people" it claims
to defend. In essence the responsibility to not abuse of populism falls upon
those who choose to use it as their tool of persuasion - politicians. It becomes
comfortable and convenient to capitalize on populism's persuasive
characteristics to gain votes. Unless the concerns of the
"Middle-Americans" remain in focus it is not fitting to claim
solidarity with their issues and matters. In the end, populism is the vision
that keeps the people's needs in perspective. Although sometimes misinterpreted,
without populism the basis of the American Democracy is lost.