I was reading about populists and the Democratic Party in The Washington Post and growing annoyed because we’re meandering around populism and liberalism and mixing up what I think are regional differences in one big stew of stern warnings not to go too far Left.
But Stern cautioned that the bigger test of who holds power inside the party is proving those ideas can attract voters beyond staunchly liberal states or cities.
“It is fair to say that more liberal places find politicians first who are more willing to step out on these issues,” he said. “But it is not a shift until it’s seen to work in Minnesota or Wisconsin or New Mexico or Arizona.”
Sherrod Brown is quoted in the piece and I think he nails the whole liberal populist definition in one paragraph. They should have just led with this:
“Fundamentally, there’s two things that elections and governing are all about — the future and whose side are you on,” he said. “Democrats win elections and govern well when we keep that front and center. . . . It’s always important to put some new face on this, and it matters how you dress it up, but fundamentally it’s the historic difference between the parties.”
In Brown’s formulation there are two parts to being a Democrat- “the future” and “whose side are you on”. He has both of those components- he’s a progressive and he’s an economic populist and he wins in a 50/50 state. Not by a lot, but no one wins in Ohio by a lot. He’s a liberal populist.
Here’s a politician in Kentucky who is focusing mostly on the second part of Brown’s recipe, “whose side are you on”. She isn’t in a 50/50 state and if she wins no one will ever mistake her for a “liberal firebrand” but this is classic populism:
For now, Ms. Grimes benefits from not being Mr. McConnell. She is pitching herself to the conservative Kentucky electorate as a pro-coal, pro-labor Democrat and portrays the leader as a symbol of an out-of-touch Washington. “If the doctors told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone,” she likes to say, “he would refuse to pass it.”
On a frigid February afternoon, hundreds of cheering union members and party activists turned out to hear Ms. Grimes. She cast herself as an advocate for women and the middle class, called for raising the minimum wage and issued a spirited defense of collective bargaining rights.
But it was her repeated assault on the senator as a man who “doesn’t get it” that really fired up the crowd.
She’s for working people (men and women) while Mitch McConnell is a wealthy, corrupt, out of touch DC pol who doesn’t get it. In so many words. If I may paraphrase. To use Brown’s definition again, she’s mostly “whose side are you on” with just a little nod to “the future.” It’s possible to put together different combinations of those two elements and win in Ohio and maybe even Kentucky. In fact, I don’t know how Democrats stand a chance in some of these places without economic populism. As far as I can tell, it’s the only reason Brown is competitive in the more conservative areas of this state. We probably don’t need populism to win in Massachusetts and New York, but we absolutely do need it to win in Ohio and Kentucky.