Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Road From "New Democrat" To "The Kingfish"

After the 2006 mid-term elections our political parties and pundit class spent a great deal of time explaining what the vote meant. They didn't agree, of course. Democrats at that time tended to like the notion that the American public rose up and put them in charge of the House and Senate to "end the Iraq war." Time has proven that to be the lie it always was. If there was a winning constituency for that action Speaker Pelosi would have secured the de-funding of OIF. She hasn't because she and her advisers know that the political consequences of abandoning Iraq to the tender mercies of the terrorists would be a huge liability for Democrats in future elections.

In the 70's a Democrat controlled Congress de-funded aid to the South Vietnamese with a Republican, Gerald Ford, in the White House. The result was literally millions of Southeast Asians slaughtered by Communists, tens of thousands of others sent to re-education (AKA: detention) camps, and still others clinging to anything that floated to get away from the Reds. To this day Democrats see the exit from SouthEast Asia as something great and honorable. That's only because they don't know anyone personally whose skull ended up in a filthy pile in Cambodia's killing fields. They can't risk de-funding Iraq operations and having the next set of skulls piled closer to their door.

Republicans said the 2006 election was a referendum on scandal. In fact, the exact point where futures trading showed the R's losing the Congress was when the Mark Foley scandal was getting full play on TV screens and in the general press. They never recovered from that one-- it was the last brick in the stack. So, the Republicans may have a point although as a "lesson learned" I'm not sure it's very actionable. And in the intervening two years there have been many Democrat scandals and the press never seems to link them to a political party, quite unlike the way they published Dem press releases about "the culture of corruption" in the run-up to the '06 election. Being the party of "fewer, less icky scandals" isn't really a glorious banner on which to run and win.

My view then and now was a bit different than these two streams of thought. I think 2006 was evidence of a populist wave. This economic populism has only strengthened since. There is now much talk of protectionism, restrictions on free trade, taxing profitable companies with extra levies beyond the confiscatory ones already in place, taking money from one group of Americans to bail out others who took out loans they couldn't pay, or to buy them health insurance they can't or won't buy for themselves and on and on. It's not just a Dem thing-- on the Republican side we saw the improbable rise of Gov. Mike Huckabee whose only message outside of his cultural positions was pure Populism worthy of Huey Long. Even one of the most successful capitalists to run for President in history, Mitt Romney, when faced with needing a win in Michigan promised billions in US taxpayer money to bail out an industry nearly destroyed by unionism in a state struggling under the weight of preposterous levels of taxation.

Yes, I think the election in 2006 that saw raging, angry, populist clowns like Sherrod Brown make it into the US Senate from a state won by George W. Bush twice, was the start of a new wave-- hopefully a short one. And now my air tight proof: The Hillary Clinton campaign. Other than her Wellesley/ Ivy League Marxism, Hillary Clinton stands for nothing. The one thing she learned from her husband's political career was "DON'T LEAD, TAKE A POLL AND FOLLOW!" So when you see Hillary saying this to a crowd in Indiana, "Why don't we hold these Wall Street money-grubbers responsible for their role in this recession?" (her campaign later argued that she said, "money brokers"-- that's a lot better) you can be pretty sure that the populist message is poll-tested. Then she laid out this choice chunk of Boob-Bait to a crowd in Indiana: ... OPEC "can no longer be a cartel, a monopoly that get together once every couple of months in some conference room in some plush place in the world" to set the price of oil. She even promised to use US antitrust law to sue OPEC for price-fixing. The USA, although America's biggest supplier of crude oil, is not a member of OPEC but that won't stop Hillary from telling them how it's gonna be. Our second largest supplier, Canada Oh Canada, ain't in OPEC either, by the way. I wrote about this particular bit of petrophobic hysteria earlier. On the trade front she's even turned her back on one of the few successes of Bill's long eight years in the White House: free trade agreements. Populism is in full effect.

An old truism is "Don't listen to what they say, watch what they do." When Chelsea Clinton finished up school she entered the business world eventually taking a six-figure position with a New York-based hedge fund. Thankfully she isn't one of those "money-grubbers" her mom hates. That would lead to all sorts of unpleasant mommy-daughter issues. Almost as unpleasant as a nation in the grip of economic populism.