Monday, January 07, 2008

Why Populism Rings True Right Now

Huckabee's rise and the success on the left of all the big three candidates (and their seeming dead heat and similar message) brings populism front and center. For democracy to work in America and in successful nations around the world, there needs to be a sense of fairness. Opportunities need to be available to everyone and there needs to be a sense of safety. This last issue has grown as people have taken on the entitlement attitude. They expect social security. They expect Medicare. They expect drug benefits. And with the medical-insurance problems and the threat of economic woe should a person have a health issue, American citizens expect the government to fix it. And by "fix", I mean that someone else should pay for their problems. Oh, and the economy can never go into a recession, because that will cause problems, too.

Conservatives have ignored this strain within the party. The true believers--anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, evangelicals--are not necessarily small-government libertarians. (And this type of thing incenses them.) George Bush recognizes this fact, I think, which is why he pushed through the No Child Left Behind bill and the Prescription Drug Benefit. That's his definition of compassionate conservatism.

Huckabee gets this and I think the other candidates ignore this streak in the party to their own peril. There must be some answers to why small government is important. And there must be some answers for the middle class who feel squeezed and one check away from disaster. They might not like the answers, but their difficulties need to be acknowledged. (Of course, if Huckabee's out, then the others can keep pounding their personal messages.)

And then there's the environment. I know this sounds strange, but I've said before and I'll say it again: there are many on the conservative side who feel the environment is an important issue. Like abolition and equal rights, stewardship of the earth is a Christian issue. Some of the most ardent recyclers are Christians motivated to "dress and keep" the earth. They are zealous and dedicated.

In order for the Republican candidates to resonate with these constituents, they're going to have to recognize who's voting for them. Ignoring issues that matter to voters is never a good idea. And while a Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney may do well in the general election, these guys have to appeal to a complex base first. It's not all God and guns and it's not all small government and tax breaks in the Republican party.

Truly, the Republican party is a big, diverse tent, far more so than the Democrats. The Democrats just want a Democrat in office at this point--Hillary, Obama or Edwards would all do nicely. They're the same person just in different colors, shapes and clothes. But the Republican part has grown more diverse as time has gone on. That partly explains the diversity of the candidates.

The candidate who wins on the Republican side will be the one who appeals to the diverse many. I think they all need to tweak their messages.

3 comments:

MaxedOutMama said...

Basically, we are becoming really wimpy. However I find that working class people (or middle class first gen away from working class) are less wimpy than the wealthier Americans. It's really the 75,000 and up crew that don't know how to deal with adversity.

Melissa Clouthier said...

Mama,

You would know better than I would about that, but Huckabee's message is working for evangelicals of all income classes that we see in our practice.

I'm a little disturbed how willing people are to overlook his record for his posturing as a Christian.

sandy said...

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