Monday, July 12, 2010

Populism, American Style

On February 19, 2009, business journalist Rick Santelli inadvertently helped launch a populist movement. Appearing on the cable network CNBC from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Santelli spoke of rising public anger about the expensive taxpayer-funded bailouts of failed banks, bankrupt corporations, and home owners who had defaulted on their mortgages. These policies were breeding deep concern about the growth of government, Santelli argued, and people were looking for ways to express their opposition. "We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party," he said, suggesting that participants might throw stock certificates into Lake Michigan. The tone and substance of Santelli's complaints struck a nerve. Video of his remarks spread rapidly across the internet, and his reference to the Boston Tea Party seemed to give many the inspiration they were seeking. Just two months later, on April 15, an estimated 500,000 people marked tax day with roughly 800 "Tea Party" protests across the country. There have since been hundreds more such gatherings, including several large demonstrations in Washington and other major cities. Directed especially against the Obama administration's economic policies and the recently enacted health-care legislation, these events represent a large (if loosely organized) grassroots protest movement. Indeed, this past April, a New York Times poll found that 18% of Americans identify themselves as Tea Party supporters. Yet as this new populism has spread, it has also generated a great deal of worry and disdain. One might expect a negative response from observers on the left: Tea Party anger is, after all, directed at their favored policies and politicians. But the Tea Partiers have also engendered concern and scorn among many on the right and in the center...more

No comments:

Post a Comment