The Start Of Post-Normal Populism?
- 17 July, 2012
- 4 notes
- anti-capitalismelections 2012mitt romneyobamapopulismunionstrade populism
David Brooks — not one of my favorite commentators — has damned Mitt Romney’s response to President Obama’s latest attacks. In particular, an ad that attack Romney for outsourcing jobs overseas while running Bain. Brooks winnows an intriguing thread out of the success this ad is enjoying: the rise of a strongly anti-capitalist, post-normal populism in the US.
David Brooks, The Capitalism Debate
What matters is the ideology behind the ad: the assumption that Bain Capital, the private-equity firm founded by Romney, should not have invested in companies that hired workers abroad; the assumption that hiring Mexican or Indian workers is unpatriotic; the assumption that no worthy person would do what most global business leaders have been doing for the past half-century.
This ad — and the rhetoric the campaign is using around it — challenges the entire logic of capitalism as it has existed over several decades. It’s part of a comprehensive attack on the economic system Romney personifies.
This shift of focus has been audacious. Over the years of his presidency, Obama has not been a critic of globalization. There’s no real evidence that, when he’s off the campaign trail, he has any problem with outsourcing and offshoring. He has lavishly praised people like Steve Jobs who were prominent practitioners. He has hired people like Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, whose company embodies the upsides of globalization. His economic advisers have generally touted the benefits of globalization even as they worked to help those who are hurt by its downsides.
But, politically, this aggressive tactic has worked. It has shifted the focus of the race from being about big government, which Obama represents, to being about capitalism, which Romney represents.
Just as Republicans spent years promising voters that they could have tax cuts forever, now the Democrats are promising voters that they can have all the benefits of capitalism without the downsides, like plant closures, rich C.E.O.’s and outsourcing. Just as Republicans used to force Democrats into the eat-your-spinach posture (you need to have high taxes if you want your programs), now Democrats are casting Republicans into the eat-your-spinach posture (you need to accept outsourcing and the pains of creative destruction if you want your prosperity).
The Romney campaign doesn’t seem to know how to respond.
Well, there is no great response. The logic of anti-capitalism is tied up with our growing awareness of living in the post-normal, a time after the failure of capitalism.
Capitalism — in the unbridled, rape-the-earth, peak profits incarnation that Romney and Bain so perfectly represent — is a Tyrannosaurus rex so large and lumbering that it already dying at the tail but the pea-sized brain hasn’t realized it yet.
And, while it maybe true that Obama hasn’t made anti-capitalism a plank of this platform, he certainly has argued for years about inequity and the collapse of the middle class. He stepped in to stop the death of the US auto industry — which Romney wouldn’t have done — and has taken a more aggressive tone in trade imbalances.
I’ve argued for some time that we would see the emergence of trade populism in this election, and that the pol that most adroitly rides that wave will win the White House. There is no possible way for Romney to be that guy, but Obama seems like he’s riding that for all it’s worth.
If Romney and the neo-conservatives lose this election, and the House, we’ll see a new tranche of young populists moving into politics, the counter echo of the Tea Party. They will be progressives, opposed to financial inequity, and will have gotten elected on a tax-the-rich, level-the-playing-field, and boost-American-local-industry platform. The will explicitly talk about reining in the excesses of unregulated globalism, and global warming and the ecology will find it’s place on the Sunday morning TV shows as these people won’t stop talking about it.
These new trade populists will support public and private unions, teachers, police, firemen, nurses, and factory workers: the forgotten Americans. And they will raise taxes back to Reagan-era levels on the rich.
They will also start to regulate globalism, creating strong incentives for companies to create and keep jobs in the US, and to raise trade barriers to goods made overseas.
The post-normal populists with intuitively see thriving local industry as making the country more resilient, even while it decreases profits for the owners and the financial class.
President Obama is not actively waving that flag, but he is using jiu jitsu to cause the same effect: he’s letting Romney’s background as a profits-at-all-costs, Big Daddy Warbucks archetype serve as the momentum to smash into the wall of the average American’s grievances. Obama is just sticking out his leg to make Romney trip and fall.
And it’s just the start.
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