The Wisdom of the People - the Populist Rationale
By Michael Collins
The citizens of the United States have excellent judgment. They have shown it consistently over time. When that judgment shifts briefly allowing a failed policy, it is a result of the vilest forms of propaganda by a small clique of liars. (Image: PS-OV-ART)
The people were right about the invasion of Iraq
We know that the plan to invade Iraq began just days after Inauguration Day, 2001. The opportunity to launch the most disastrous and costly military effort in our history came on 9/11. The destruction of the World Trade Center towers and attack on the Pentagon became the pretext for war. The manipulators launched their fraudulent storyline in earnest with confidence that they would get their war.
But in December of 2002, the public wasn't buying it. The people didn't have access to all of the information. They knew one thing for sure -- the invasion was a very bad idea unless Iraq posed an imminent threat to the country with weapons of mass destruction. An in depth Los Angeles Times public opinion poll asked this question:
The rulers needed to pull out all the stops to get their war. They sent a national icon, General Colin Powell, to lie to the world as he waved a vile of supposed chemical weapons at the United Nations. Then President Bush lied in his 2003 state of the union address to Congress about Iraq's nuclear potential. This shameless manipulation of our worst fears came as a direct result of the wisdom of the people rejecting a contrived invasion. When the public fails to cooperate, extraordinary measures are implemented.
The people were right about the bailout
Another instance of the people's wisdom came in the days leading up to the first bailout vote following the 2008 Wall Street-big bank collapse. Then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson put together a generous bailout for the most favored banks and investment houses. The goasl were to keep them in business, to preserve their bonuses, and to cover up the various schemes that caused the crisis in the first place.
The people knew better. The spontaneous outpouring of public demands that Congress reject the bailout came at a rate never seen before. The first bailout was defeated 228 to 205, with only two members failing to show up for the vote. The anti-bailout coalition included arch liberals Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), the very right wing Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and libertarian Ron Paul (R-TX).
The financial elite were shocked by this outcome. They marshaled their forces, calling back both presidential candidates to endorse the bailout. Financial pressure was applied. More ominously, Secretary Paulson claimed that the financial chaos absent a bailout would be the equivalent of a massive heart attack. The bailouts passed on the next vote propping up the perpetrators of the crash and guaranteeing their fat-cat bonuses.
The pubic was right again.
Who pays attention to the public? Not our leaders. There was a time when ordinary people rose up and offered a declaration based on the people's wisdom.
A Populist Manifesto
One of the earliest populist declarations applies directly to the challenges we face right now. It represented a bold assertion from those denied the benefits of their labor. These were not experts. They were, by and large, farmers. They were not Ivy League graduates. But their education was sufficient to generate a revolutionary statement addressing the massive inequalities of their time.
The decades following the Civil War were challenging to both urban and rural citizens. By 1892, a Populist Party emerged with a manifesto that is highly relevant to our times. The movement had some successes and then unraveled when some leaders diverted the movement from its core economic principals and openness to divisive politics including racism and religious bigotry. This diversion has been the undoing of populist candidates and movements since that time.
The original Populist principles, however, are of great interest. Note the remarkable unity shown by the mostly rural based Populist Party members with labor unions and urban workers: "The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies are identical."
The 1892 Populists argued that a small group of individuals and entities within society controlled the majority of wealth and power. This cabal of the very few manipulated the system to serve their will leaving the people with varying degrees of nothing. The 1892 platform of the Populist Party crystallized this argument:
"The conditions which surround us best justify our cooperation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench."
How did this happen. The populists had an answer:
"The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists." 1892 platform
And they knew the ultimate goal behind the hijacking of the government:
"The fruits of the toil of millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty." 1892 platform
The populists were compelled to meet and take action because the political parties offered no resource or remedy:
"We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them." 1892 platform
The populists aimed to take power and demanded the implementation of fundamental change. Their program included a strong stand in favor of unions: "…the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual." They asserted that, "Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry [work] without an equivalent is robbery." Profits up the line were exploitation. They demanded nationalization of the railroads, the dominant and oppressive monopoly of the time. The 1892 manifesto called for a progressive income tax, a legally mandated eight hour workday, an end to corporate subsidies, election reform ("a free ballot and a fair count"), and a civil service independent of political meddling and influence.
It is time to look back to the populists of the late 19th century, as well as the industrial labor movements and their initial principles. Our societies look very different on the surface but the underlying challenges presented by great concentrations of wealth are the same.
Almost all citizens are faced with troubles from big money, rapacious power, and the exploitation visited on us daily.
It is time for the people to apply their considerable wisdom, as evidenced over the past decade, in a systematic fashion that recognizes core interests, principles, and threats. It's always a good thing to be right. It is quite another to be both right and successful in taking power to achieve vital interests and principles.
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