Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finding Middle Ground

The history of movement conservatism as a major political force reveals the electoral alliance between conservatism and vigorous populism. In recent decades, leaving aside the most recent example of Donald Trump, Republicans have relied on populist energies to power major electoral victories: Ronald Reagan, the Gingrich revolution of 1994, and the tea-party wave all depended on populist energies (even if these energies were less than they now are). While he didn’t deliver on many populist policy aims, even George W. Bush relied upon populist optics in 2000 and 2004. This conservative-populist alliance might not always be healthy, and there is no reason for conservatives to surrender their deeper principles in order to cozy up to a populist insurgency. However, conservatives might be wise to locate areas of sympathy between conservatism and populism and work to address the broader causes of this latest populist disruption.
For those interested in the theme of populism, Noah Millman has an interesting case for the necessity of populist energies as a way of informing the preferences of those in power:
Populists may be the only ones who truly understand what democracy really is for, and that is, fundamentally, for expressing dissatisfaction. Elections force leaders to turn to the people and say: How am I doing? — and to accept the people's verdict if the answer is: Not so great.
For a large swath of the country, the answer has been "not so great" for quite some time. This year, they rendered their verdict.
And I am thankful that they did. In the absence of populism, democracy becomes a competition between groups of elites to divide the people up with maximum efficiency, such as to lower the economic cost of bidding for a majority that will deliver power. Populist revolts of the left- or right-wing variety are the primary mechanism by which the electorate can punish elites for that strategy, and force them to consider the alarming possibility of losing control of the political economy entirely.

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