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In defense of populist rhetoric

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,Libertarian Party,Analysis,Libertarian Populism

Populist rhetoric turns off many conservatives, and Matt Lewis is one of them. Writing at "The Week," Lewis worries about libertarian populists believing that “populist rhetoric [should] be employed as a cudgel to score political points.”

He suggests this is to “give [liberals] a taste of their own medicine.”

Lewis argues:

[W]hile Republicans can and should reach out to the disaffected by using inclusive, optimistic, and uplifting rhetoric, they must also avoid the sort of populist victimhood rhetoric about how the game is “rigged” to favor the wealthy, etc.

He’s wrong in this argument. Populism rhetoric can be used in destructive and evil ways, but it can also be used well. Here’s why believers in liberty ought to use populist rhetoric:

  1. It’s true. The game is rigged. Much government intervention in the economy works to favor the politically connected and those big enough and rich enough to deal with — and tweak – government regulations. Subsidies accrue to the biggest businesses and the businesses that hire up the lawmakers and the staffers who created the subsidies. This whole system creates an incestuous class of elites who get rich while the rest of us languish. The booming wealth of the DC area is a testament to this. So are record corporate profits, consolidation across industries, high unemployment, and stagnant median wages.
  2. It counters Obama’s pretenses to populism. President Obama deeply supports corporate welfare, and regulations that protect big business from competition from small business. Pointing this out could help dispel the myth that Obama is championing the little guy against the special interests — and counter the myth that all advocates of free enterprise are shills for big business.
  3. It opens voters’ ears to free-market arguments. Voters want to vote for people who are on their side. One good way to show people you’re on their side is to make it clear that you are fighting for them against the powerful. Mitt Romney was never going to convince blue-collar voters that he was fighting for them. A libertarian-leaning candidate who inveighs against corporate welfare and self-dealing elites will at least get an audience with the disaffected.
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