The Decline of the Populist Left and the Rise of the Tea Party

Published on Forbes, by E.D. Kain, Sept. 26, 2011;

The national conversation has shifted to austerity politics and deficit spending in spite of a strong case for stimulus and expanded monetary policy. The popular sentiment is anti-government instead of anti-corporate-greed. Tax hikes on the rich have become almost unthinkable in Washington, and accusations of class warfare have been leveled at anyone who suggests otherwise. Why is this? Have the Democrats simply dropped the ball? Has the president failed to make a clear progressive case for his political agenda? Or are there deeper and more systemic failures on the left that have essentially ceded the politics of the era to the Republicans?  

Michael Kazin has a very smart piece up in The New York Times on the decline of the American left in America and the history of political movements that led to the rise of FDR and the New Deal in 1930’s and, more recently, the Tea Party and the conservative movement.

The left, Kazin argues, has failed to build up the same network of institutions that have fueled the rightwing insurgency. Whereas the right has poured money into think tanks, publications, talk radio, and grassroots organizing, the left has been asleep aHent the wheel, or catering “mostly to a professional middle class and are more skillful at promoting social causes like legalizing same-sex marriage and protecting the environment than demanding millions of new jobs that pay a living wage.”

After all, the Tea Party is not an organic uprising of ordinary Americans. It is the result of decades of political bricklaying both outside the electoral process and within the tightly woven local grassroots electoral process. The cabal of conservative think tanks and legislative groups like ALEC as well as an elaborate web of special interest groups such as the anti-tax lobby headed by Grover Norquist, all provide fertile soil for national electoral success … //

… The left is floundering. Traditional bastions of progressive strength, such as unions, are on the defensive. And Republicans are playing more fiercely than ever, to win or obstruct or change the rules of the game if need be. To counter this the left needs more than any one president can give them. (full text).

Some Links:

What Gay Rights Activists Can Teach the Left About Winning, Sept. 26, 2011;

John Rentoul: Rewriting the laws of particle politics, Sept. 25, 2011;

French Left’s Election Wins Troublesome for Sarkozy, Sept. 26, 2011;

Left Behind: How Democrats Are Losing the Political Center, Sept. 24, 2011;

Why Death Penalty Opponents Are Closer to Their Goal Than They Realize, Sept. 27, 2011.

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