Up the Populist!

I listened the other day to Tucker Carlson’s populist dirge on what’s ailing America. Then I perused some rejections, critiques, and commendations of it. Then I shrugged.

To be charitable, it certainly wasn’t their fault. It’s the fruit of our communication revolution, wherein the head rush from new media’s immediacy renders antiquated the sober digestion of more lengthy philosophical debates. Small wonder, then, one so frequently searches for abiding comfort in these trying times by, again, turning back the dog-eared pages written by Burke, Kirk, Buckley, Röpke, and Nisbet, among so many other titans of conservative thought.

But I digress . . .  

Or do I?

In what does the current debate instruct us that aforementioned works haven’t already? The predatory economy Carlson describes is not market capitalism; it is the “business-government model” of crony capitalism long ago defined and decried by Belloc and Chesterton.

Its remedy was found in the “German Miracle” outlined in Röpke’s A Humane Economy. One would also know from Burke, Kirk, and Buckley that, since the French Revolution, it is not greed but ideology—the Enemies of the Permanent Things lust to desecrate all you hold dear in order to remold humanity according to their own insidious whims—that has caused most suffering and consumed the most innocent lives.

From Nisbet we learned how The Quest for Community that is based upon faith, family, community, and country has been impaired and imperiled by unrestrained government’s willful, deliberate, and premeditated destruction of mediating social institutions. What more could you demand or deserve from your elected public servants than that they follow the doctrine of subsidiarity and emulate the qualities of President Ronald Reagan that were highlighted by Kirk in his 1988 article, “The Popular Conservatives”?

There is a fundamental failure to recognize a rather elementary fact about contemporary populism. Traditionally, populism has demanded the government control private institutions that have an unfair, largely unaccountable power over the public. Today, however, while the traditional strain for government control remains in the progressive/democratic-socialist wing of the Democratic Party, a new strain emerged in its embryonic state back in 2008: the Tea Party.

Jump started by the Wall Street bailout and revved up by Obamacare, these new populists were essentially different from traditional populists in that the Tea Party’s goal was not to have government start doing things for them, but rather to have government stop doing things to them. Simply, it’s the difference between “Occupy Wall Street!” and “Don’t Tread on Me!”

Moreover, a conservative populism does not look to the government for “meaning” or “happiness.” Why? Because a conservative populism knows politicians are not our leaders; politicians are our servants.

As Lincoln affirmed, “Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better, or equal, hope in this world?” Agreeing, conservative populism seeks a more limited government for a new birth of freedom for all Americans so that she can continue to inspire the world with what a free people can achieve.

So there it is, right stinking there, Tucker, Ben, David, Kyle, and everybody, the essence of conservative populism: “Leave me alone, you bum, and for the love of God don’t make things worse.” It might not be as catchy as “Peace, Land, and Bread,” but the results are better and nobody gets reeducated or capped.  

And lastly, in gratitude to all you cats for taking your licks while riffing in the conservative groove, I leave you with these words of eternal, inarguable wisdom from Kirk: “The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He [or she] believes, instead, that the object of life is Love.”

No, government can’t give it to you; and, true, love isn’t always “happiness”; but it’s always all you need.

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About Thaddeus G. McCotter

An American Greatness contributor, the Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter (M.C., Ret.) represented Michigan’s 11th Congressional district from 2003 to 2012 and served as Chair of the Republican House Policy Committee. Not a lobbyist, he is a frequent public speaker and moderator for public policy seminars, and a Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show" among sundry media appearances.

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