In the Boston Review, William Hogeland counsels liberals not to dismiss the 'Tea Party' movement as a surge of know-nothing-ism and thinly disguised prejudice. Both the left and the right have their share of moronic extremists, he argues; the charge of extremism cannot explain away the concerns of populists, whether of the right-wing or left-wing variety.
In fact, he continues, the conflict between today's liberals and today's Tea Partiers mirrors, in many respects, the tension between late-19th- and early-20th-century leftist populists and progressives (i.e., the "liberals" of their day). Progressives mocked the "sheer lowbrow idiocy" of the populists. Meanwhile, the likes of William Jennings Bryan dismissed the coastal elites, much as Sarah Palin does today with her constant invocations of "the heartland" (despite living somewhat north and west of same). Typical Bryan riff:
Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic Coast; but those hardy pioneers who braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose--those pioneers away out there, rearing their children near to nature’s heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds--out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their children and churches where they praise their Creator, and the cemeteries where sleep the ashes of their dead--are as deserving of the consideration of this party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak.
[H]istory suggests that American populists' rejection of liberalism is a matter of principle, not of interest. Liberalism has long defined itself from a position of expertise and wisdom that it justifies as meritocracy, and for which it keeps reflexively congratulating itself. Whether lampooning populist farmers as rank yokels, or giving way to a thrilling panic about coast-to-coast violence, or patronizing millions of people’s supposed misguided tropisms, or even, like [the Harvard professor and New Yorker writer Jill] Lepore, subjecting right-wing enthusiasms to the reflective, nuanced consideration identical with today’s high-quality journalism, liberal claims to a monopoly on knowledge may be even more undemocratic than conservatives’ policies for distributing wealth upward. In America the deadlock between liberalism and populism may be unbreakable.He hardly offers a solution to the impasse, but his analysis is worth reading in full.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.