Populism, And Its Shortcomings

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 18, 2010


Many of my friends and allies think that if George Will makes a political prediction, the precise opposite of that prediction will come to pass. This may well be the case, but I am going to go out on a limb, and say that Will is write to deride populism as an organizing philosophy for a GOP/center-right comeback. And he is also right to state that Sarah Palin will not–cannot–be the personality behind that comeback. Will is respectful towards both Palin and populism, laying out the gifts and talents of each for the reader to appreciate. But at the end of the day, more is needed than what Palin and populism can provide.

Perhaps it might be argued that Will overestimates the electoral impact of the highly educated. In terms of numbers going to the polls, this may be so. But when a political movement has the highly educated on its side, it also possesses the power to advance sophisticated and correct arguments, and the power to intelligently craft those arguments so that they are made understandable to the public at large. Bill Clinton, of course, was and is highly gifted at this. Barack Obama, for all of his faults, is as well–though certainly, his powers of persuasion ain’t what they used to be. However few the number of highly educated Americans who turn out to vote in relation to the rest of the population that does so, the center-right needs people on its side that can craft a winning policy and political message. It will not achieve this by continuing to appeal primarily to the populist ranks, or to the would-be leaders of populist movements, seeing as how populism and its would-be leaders are so determined to use the highly educated as a target to resent, rather than as a constituency to woo.

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