Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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Populism, fairness and class warfare

The electioneering this fall will probably revolve around the emotional gold standard of populism and the utopian issue of fairness. And class warfare will surely play a major part in the battles and debates.

Posted on May 11, 2014 at 1:00 p.m.

Ahh. The big primary is over. And Mother’s Day is here. What does one have to do with the other? Nothing. I just wanted to wish all of you a Happy Mothers Day.

Now. back to politics.

When I voted, I was asked if I wanted a Republican ballot, a Democrat ballot, or a non-partisan ballot. “What’s a non-partisan ballot?” I asked.

I was told the non-partisan ballot was for folks who wanted only to vote on the referendums. I guess it was anticipated that there might be voters who didn’t care who won the various races. The hot-button referendums, though, were a draw in an otherwise fairly boring primary.

There are lessons to be learned from this, and I’m not talking about school funding or tax caps. There are lessons to be learned about getting the vote out and on the value of emotionalizing issues.

The electioneering this fall will probably revolve around the emotional gold standard of populism and the utopian issue of fairness. And class warfare will surely play a major part in the battles and debates.

Populism might simply be defined as a political philosophy which focuses on standing up for the rights and positions of common people. The war cry of the populist movement is usually “fairness."

Raise the minimum wage, achieve gender equality in pay and stamp out overpayment to the hated one-percenters. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw tee shirts with “It Isn’t Fair, and We Care” printed on them.

Here’s a rhetorical question about the school referendums. This has nothing to do with their worthiness or their substance. This is just a hypothetical exercise.

Here’s the question: “If the referendums had failed, and all the people who voted for them were asked to voluntarily pay the tax increases that had been proposed to help the schools, even though those who voted “no” weren’t paying, how do you think that would have gone?”

Sure, if only the pro-referendum folks paid, it would raise less money for schools, but it could raise a huge amount. What do you think? Would most have opted to pay and do what they could? Or would most have said, “It’s not fair that everyone’s not paying, so I’m not giving anything either”?

Of course, there is no way of knowing what people would do, and this may be a poor hypothetical. But one’s perception of “fairness” is a mighty force in every aspect of life. And especially in campaigns.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the queen of applying the fairness tool in a populist appeal. The famous “You didn’t build that” speech that Obama gave in 2012 was basically a re-do of her speech in 2011.

Warren’s version was better, and a YouTube of her delivering it went viral. Her “fairness” rants are pure gold as a crowd pleaser. She is now a leading fundraiser for the Democratic Party.

Warren is a fiery speaker and has just proposed a law that would allow some student loans to be refinanced at lower rates. It would partially be funded by a new tax on millionaires.

The law has flaws, and I doubt it will pass. But it will give Democrats an opportunity to say that Republicans are against students and for the rich. At the least, it is strong political theater.

It seems pretty apparent that between Harry Reid, Warren, and the inevitable Hillary Clinton we are going to be hearing a lot of “It isn’t fair.” I wonder if the Republicans will figure out how to reach voters with a populist message of their own or if they’ll try a logical, practical counterpunch.

I suspect if they try to combat emotion with logic, they’ll again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Former Elkhart furniture store owner Richard Leib has served on planning committees in several industries. An avid auto fan, he raced in the 1972 coast-to-coast Cannonball Run. He has written on a wide range of subjects.

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