Populist groups create stir

Written by: Connor Stangler

There’s something about a good populist crusade that invigorates the deepest recesses of a democracy. Even those members of the body politic who find it hard to get excited about governmental doldrums can feel the thrill of a coordinated mass mobilization.

Recently, the conservative “Tea Party” movement – a grassroots political movement, characterized by large public demonstrations, that protests government taxation, big government and, most recently, the policies of President Barack Obama – has fancied itself one of those rare occurrences. It wants to join its historically significant namesake event as one of those times in American history when the people stood up to the Leviathan. But as much as these true patriots believe they are the successors to the Sons of Liberty, their ethnocentricity has done nothing but contribute to the chaos. Their agenda champions impulsive and radical behavior, while the solution to the economic and political problems lies in prudence and cooperation.

Now this “populism” has subtly crept into the hallowed halls of the most dignified assembly in the United States: the Senate. While usually a bastion of reason and discriminating practicality, the venerable body has fallen victim to the whims of an impressionable, lawless force. Several prominent politicians have sacrificed their principles and those of their constituents to avoid being blacklisted or thought of as an enemy of Main Street. Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold withdrew their support for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to serve another term, citing Bernanke’s ties with the Wall Street fat cats as antithetical to this nation’s values of public trust and support. Like the Tea Partiers themselves, they have yet to suggest an alternative and instead are interested only in opposing him. Both Boxer and Feingold saw the signs, they heard the angry cries and they forfeited reason accordingly.

The Tea Party movement wants revenge. It wants to spill the blood of those who got us into this mess. It attempted to cleanse the Republican Party of its impurities by abandoning one of its own in the New York 23rd Congressional District special election, but instead succeeded only in splitting the party and handing the election to the Democrat. Recently, it sacrificed Martha Coakley on the altar of partisan democracy. But it still wants more. The citizens of Main Street will revel in the sight of a fatigued Bernanke, the symbol of the indulgent Wall Street lifestyle, pleading for mercy at the feet of a panel of Senators that is simply the agent of justice, the voice of the people. The crowd will storm the Capitol and demand that Bernanke answer to them. Consent of the governed.

Passionate unrest must have something, or someone, to unite against. It must be public, it must be visible and it must be nominally, if not deceptively, blameworthy. Bernanke is now the perfect target. He is the face of the recession – the guy who dropped the ball. In reality, a combination of bad loans, wasteful spending and reckless speculation was the root of the recession. Bernanke certainly made some missteps along the way, but he was not the only one and definitely is not the man who should pay for this. And if Bernanke’s re-confirmation is declined, and Obama rebuked, what then? Who replaces him?

The problem with plucking an outsider from Main Street and throwing him or her into the mayhem of Wall Street is that this is a game of experience. The best candidates for the job are those who also may be seen as entrenched robber barons. Other notable economists probably all will be categorized as part of the establishment. In the eyes of the Tea Partiers, they are tarnished.

So what now populism? The Tea Partiers have successfully boarded the ship of big government and jettisoned the tea of Wall Street. It is a destructive movement, and after there are no others to blame, it will slowly deteriorate. That, however, is the fate of most anarchic populist movements. The thing about anarchy is, before long, there’s nothing left to destroy.

I am surrounded by incredibly involved and motivated students. They are hungry for activism, and when they are exposed to this democratic perversion, it falsifies American values. We are here to build, help and enrich, not sabotage. These Tea Partiers are not patriots. They are interested in one thing: telling you who is to blame. They claim to fight for the land of the free. I have hope in campuses like Truman and that the people here know what that fight is actually supposed to look like.