Popular Populist Pugilists

Part 2 (final)

Populism.  Definition (thorough but still needs work).

Are both sides capable?  If you look at politics as a purely bipolar experience where the poles are dictated by someone other than yourself, and if those poles can be loosely called “left” and “right “, is it always the case that the populists are only on the “other” side?

The Cowboy views populism as an appeal to one’s baser instincts.  It distills all of the competing questions, thoughts and feelings into an easy-to-understand, seemingly coherent whole.  It also tends to foster the idea of another side.  This is our side.  Are you on the other side?

It feels good to be a part of a team.  You root for your side, and insult the other side.  Try it.  Imagine the other side, and read the next few sentences slowly and meaningfully.

Can you believe those losers on the other side?  Doesn’t it just make you crazy to listen to them? They make me so angry!  When will they come to their senses and come over to our side?  They are so misguided.  So stupidOur side is the best!  Number 1!

Did your heart speed up a bit?  Can you feel some of that adrenaline?  Hmmm?

Much of media and discourse has always been about populism: swaying people to your views, trying to build a coalition of like minds.  One might say sports is about populism, loosely defined.  The Olympics? How about business?  Maybe, maybe not.

Hyperbole, overstatement, mockery and emotion are all tools of the populist trade.  Reading what has been said across the history of U.S. politics beginning before the Revolution, it sometimes seems that today’s rhetoric and political tactics are fairly tame.  But even in our most advanced of civilizations and stable of democracies, we get our fair share of rants.

Other examples of populism?  In this corner we have Mr. Adolf Hitler of the Fascists!  In this corner, we have Mr. Josef Stalin of the Communists!  Watch them beat each others’ totalitarian brains out!  Totally!

We already discussed Hugo Chavez.  You see, there are lots of examples.  There are also much more benign examples.  I mean, we’re all a bit naughty sometimes.

The problem is that populism is also built on false premises, shoddy thinking, and inconsistent logic.  There’s enough rationalism to keep people engaged of course, but rhetoric and emotion take care of the gaps.

The Cowboy is a fan of The Daily Show.  Jon Stewart’s comedic timing and expressiveness are delightful.  Stewart’s guests are usually topical and interesting.  The other night he had a fascinating discussion with Sandra Day O’Connor.  By way of critique, Stewart’s interviews are never his strong point: he has a tendency to lecture rather than inquire.  He can also be self-righteous and, dare I say, populist at times.  All in all, though, the Cowboy finds The Daily Show to be enjoyable viewing.  But see what you think of this, from the other night.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Cowboy found it quite unpleasant.  Stewart was clearly taking a populist tack.  There are certainly critiques that can be levied against CNBC, but nary a one from this segment was true.  Many of the clips were from some time ago, well before the full extent of the economic crisis was known or predicted.  And yet, at that time, CNBC was one of the few places you could watch Dr. Doom himself, Nouriel Roubini from NYU.  Did many commentators get it wrong?  Yes.  As did most company executives, economists, investors and regular folk.  Many of the clips referencing failed companies were citing information released by those companies.  And of course, the level of vitriol directed towards a business news outlet was impressive.  Having scanned the internets for reaction, it seems that most viewers heartily approved.  Too bad.

Populist pugilists.  Santelli in one corner and Stewart in the other.  Pick a side.

Or don’t.  Stop, look and listen. (Oh no! Here come the trains again.)

This display will have the Cowboy questioning his own biases for some time – always a healthy exercise.  It will also have the Cowboy looking for other times and places where he has succumbed to the siren song of populism.  He can already think of quite a few.

How about you, dear reader?  Have you heard the populist call recently?

And as for the picture at the top of this post, well, the Nazi populist lost and the democratic black man won.  Click through the pics for more.  It was a pretty big deal at the time.  To the Cowboy, though, it’s all just show business.

Oh, except for that spat between those guys on the Newsweek cover.  So, it’s all just show business until millions of people are killed.

Published in: on March 7, 2009 at 15:56  Comments Off on Popular Populist Pugilists  
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