Just Say No To Populism Cont’d

by Brien Jackson

Following up yesterday’s post on the populism folly, Sirota himself comes out with a line of thinking that pretty clearly sums up why progressives should unambiguously oppose populist appeals:

In the 2008 Republican primary, we saw the rise of the economic populist wing of the GOP through Mike Huckabee. This faction has started making waves in Congress, too – many Republicans voted against the bank bailout, and there were at a few Republican-backed amendments aimed at forcing stimulus money to be spent on specific projects in the United States, and not on job outsourcing (Sanders-Grassley was one of them). And now, Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham is endorsing bank nationalization.

In other words, if the Democrats don’t embrace their populist wing, they will find the Republicans trying to outflank them on some hot-button economic issues like trade, outsourcing, and economic patriotism.

Let’s be clear about this; Mike Huckabee’s economic populism was his embrace of the so-called fair tax, and trafficing in the idea that this would shut down the dreaded IRS forever. This was always, of course, total nonsense; the Fair Tax is a highly regressive national sales tax that would put the bulk of the tax burden on the working class, and as long as you collect taxes you can’t eliminate the IRS. To the extent that you could get rid of the specific agency, someone has to collect federal taxes and see that the tax laws are enforced, so some other area of government would simply pick up the IRS’s job. It was, in other words, exactly what the GOP is good at; taking a policy that will disproportionately hurt workers and help the rich wrapped up in folksy sensibilities and sold as a populist measure. Progressives shouldn’t be trying to “outflank” that, they should be rebutting it, if for no other reason than the fact that they simply can’t win a race to the bottom with the Republican Party.

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