Up With People

Friday, January 29, 2010


For over a century, politicians trying to rally their base and refocus voter anger have relied on a durable rhetorical tactic - populism - the framing of virtually any issue as us vs. them. President Obama used the strategy in his State of the Union address. Historian and author Michael Kazin describes the tradition and tactics of rallying the masses.

Comments [7]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

It's hard to be Populist if you aren't speaking to the people. No one expects the NPR listener to miss the false equivalence. The question is; are you going to do anything beyond feeling smug over berating the host? You argue well enough without an opposing viewpoint.

Well, here's the thing. You all do well to criticize this report but, as it is, the Conservatives are out-organizing the Liberals by a wide margin and last year they were enforcing their supremacy at public meetings with weapons. Just as in the last Civil War, which was by the way in the 1960's-'70s not the 1860's, the same issues came up. State's rights and civil rights; interstate commerce, however is a new addition to the rights that red states seem to be asking for. Of course, a Court packed against the new Democratic President also doesn't bode well for him. Meanwhile you ask what is happening to your beloved NPR and PBS.

To coin a phrase, Act Up!

Feb. 03 2010 10:30 PM
Bruce from palo alto, ca

Ooops ... David Horowitz ... I mean. ;-)

Feb. 02 2010 02:35 AM
Bruce from palo alto, ca

I am noticing a lot of apologists speaking up for banks and corporations on PBS all of sudden, and I could barely believe this was my PBS station with this kind of one-sided right leaning rhetoric.

It is not that I mind right-leaning rhetoric, I used to listen to "Firing Line" on PBS all the time when I was younger, I like to hear all views, but what I am hearing is more like unvetted disinformational propaganda than measured reason or a point of view. A different show, but on the passing of Howard Zinn we get far-right wacko Howard Bloom insulting the man's whole life. Today we hear the opinion that, things are really not so bad, and in support of business as usual, and whether there is doubt of not there is nothing to be done about it.

I'd like to know what is happening at NPR politically that the quality of the journalism is starting to resemble the mainstream corporate media? Apparently I am not the only one, or did I just arrive before the blog trolls start to invade and shut down any real conversation?

This piece was
A. seriously one-sided, and
B. lacking logic and factual backup.

If the middle class is doing so well ... always getting better, prove it with numbers, tell me why and what, and then let other people tell me why what you just told me is biased so we can square things with what we know and make up our own minds.

I do not like what I am seeing in PBS lately and I hope it's just an anomaly.

Feb. 01 2010 12:53 AM
Mike Sweeneu from Milwaukee, WI

The ideas and assertions of your guest regarding the middle class and the inaccuracy of the media in reporting about middle class income, etc. was interesting. BUT, without a counterpoint, all you have offered is someone's thesis. Are the ideas of your guest accurate? I don't know and you did not question or challenge him so that your listeners could make a proper assessment.

To present such a piece without an interviewer who is knowledgeable about the issues or to offer a counterpoint seems quite pointless. This is the type of "factual" reporting that I have come to expect on Fox News. Does no respected economist challenge your guest's views? If not, I apologize. Otherwise, you have done your listeners a disservice by presenting this piece without any counterpoint.

Jan. 31 2010 06:31 PM
Darrel Plant from Portland, OR

There's a false equivalency at work in this segment, that could possibly be illustrated by my own claim that anything David Brooks says is probably wrong. That would be hyperbolic (or at least parabolic) but i this case it's correct.

Claiming that any message with a populist appeal is bad just because it's populist is incredibly mistaken. Sometimes the populists have it right; sometimes the message of the populist is rational and correct not a demagogic appeal to prejudice.

Seriously, you ought to examine the message, not the way the message is conveyed. After all, I don't base my opinion of Brooks on the lizardly way he licks his lips on TV appearances.

Jan. 30 2010 06:13 PM
beyond left from colorado

Criticizing giant banks for almost crashing the world economy and 1 year later becoming insanely profitable and paying record bonuses to their top executives is a completely rational position, rooted in the facts of this recession, whether or not it a populist style argument.

Jan. 30 2010 04:51 PM
David Winn from New York

I have a lot of respect for Michael Kazin as an historian and a public intellectual, but I found this morning's segment on Populism a little frustrating. One of the things that made Kazin's Populist Persuasion seem so groundbreaking when it was published in 1995 was that it treated populism less as a 19th century movement of agrarian resentment than as an historical language of us versus them that cut across American history and transcended right and left. The problem with this approach, at least when boiled down to a 6-minute radio segment, is that it doesn't bother to ask how well that language might describe the predicament or grievances of the group deploying it at any given time. It creates a kind of false equivalency between various iterations of it--Joe McCarthy and Father Coughlin deployed it in the past, so Barack Obama's use of populist rhetoric must necessarily be sinister and suspect. You attempted tie rhetoric to reality in your subsequent segment with Stephen Rose, but it seemed to me that Rose misrepresented the current progressive/populist critique of income inequality. The argument, as I've heard it made, is not that the middle class--however you define it, and how you define it is crucially important--has not benefited AT ALL from the economic growth of the last thirty years, but that the wealthy have benefitted disproportionately. I don't think this is in dispute, and it's a perfectly legitimate political grievance, one that populist rhetoric channels quite well.

Jan. 30 2010 08:02 AM

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