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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Populism, 2004

A non-blogging friend of mine has replied by email to my recent post on Kerry and the left.

However, I think he's ignoring my argument about Kerry's populism. And he missed the fact that I voted for Kucinich.

But Kucinich isn't a viable choice anymore. We can support Kerry, support Nader, or "sit this one out." I think the first is the obvious choice, the second helps Bush, and the third is a bad idea.

He has framed the debate as if I'm a liberal and he's a progressive populist. He is anti-NAFTA, WTO, and tax cuts for rich and pro-worker ownership, single-payer health care, and "a dose of healthy anti-imperial isolationism."

Liberals like me, he writes, worry a lot about gay marriage, legal abortions, strict separation of church-state, and affirmative action. He too supports these ideals, but they are not his primary concerns.

Most important, to his mind, the progressive-populist issues can win swing states like Ohio, while the liberal issues are all losers. I generally agree, which is why I said long ago that Kerry should pick John Edwards for Veep in order to employ his "two Americas" rhetoric.

My regular readers would probably note that I hardly ever mention the issues my friend says are liberal. Moreover, I too oppose the tax cuts for the wealthy, and support more worker ownership, single payer health insurance and a significantly reduced US role in international politics.

I would also work to fix the significant ills of NAFTA and the WTO. The US simply isn't going to dump them, however.

If that, and my support for Kerry, makes me a pragmatist, so be it.

Kerry, my friend says, is an elitist milquetoast free-trade liberal, weakened by his inside-the-beltway rich northeastern background. Yet, Kerry too wants to end the tax cuts for the wealthy, supports single-payer health insurance, and clearly argues to limit the extension of US power abroad.

Bush, of course, is a wannabe cowboy conservative, hiding his inside-the-beltway rich northeastern background.

Kerry voted for WTO and NAFTA, but supports significant reforms (some to make trade greener; as I repeatedly write, Kerry is an excellent environmentalist). Indeed, Kerry's call for enforcing trade agreements is quite popular, as measured by opinion polls.

Perhaps my argument was too ambiguous. I consider myself part of the left and I want my like-minded friends to support Kerry in order to influence his presidency. Kerry would arguably be the most progressive President since LBJ.

Read his speeches. He's talking about the very (populist) issues my friend says he cares about most: economic justice, jobs, health care, and restrained internationalism. Plus, Kerry's environmentalism can be populist too (in places like Oregon, New Mexico and Wisconsin). I'm not sure Ralph Nader realizes this based on what he just said about the Green Party national convention.

The left needs to frame issues in an appealing way, but the mantle of populism cannot be reserved exclusively for those that narrowly focus on globalization. After all, Pat Buchanan rejects NAFTA and the WTO, but I'm not ready to label him a populist.

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