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Attention Rush: We’re All Populists Now:

I’ll wager that it’s happening in homes all over America. Couples sit at the breakfast table, sipping coffee and munching Oatlix or whatever healthy bowl of food originally meant for horses is now good for humans. Both have their heads buried in the pages of their city newspaper. And then one heaves a sigh and utters, “I hate Republicans.”Without any kind of goal or direction right now, the Republicans are doing what they do best: Obstructing, slowing, and asserting that a tantrum is the same as having a point of view. Don’t even get me started on how they made one of their very few African American members, Michael Steele, Chairman of the RNC at this particular moment in time. For a reference on how that sort of thing works, you might rerun some old video of McCain praising his selection of Sarah Palin.Fortunately, it doesn’t matter because we’re all populists now. The Populists, or People’s Party, were a powerful force in the 1890s. They set out to curb corporate power, maintain an eight-hour work day, and supported a graduated income tax. The critics of that time, who were probably the great granddads of today’s Republican squeaky wheels, labeled the Populists “fanatics.” When the Populists went away, the term fell out of use, then reemerged in the 1960s as a way to refer to anything that appeared down-home or dow-to-earth or even fair to all.Which turns out to be where we’re all coming from right now. We’re all “getting down,” in both the disco and practical sense. Hey, it’s work creating work! But the term “politics”, which was so sexy to us just months ago in the movement for change, well, that currently seems out of place. How can you even create “politics,” out of some of the situations we’re facing? Ask the Republicans, as they appear to know how to do that. In a recent essay, Chris Ayers of The Times of London posited some interesting contradictions about the immediate present in terms of everyone being on board and moving in the same direction. Ayers noted that John Maynard Keynes’ “paradox of thrift” meant that if everyone saves during the current crunch, everyone gets poorer. Without spending, the economy sinks further. That’s certainly a view that the studios and Sony would have you adopt concerning replacement of your video gear with Blu Ray technology. Or maybe now is, in fact, the time to buy a Buick Enclave. Or the time to join a Buick Enclave. “All members in favor of weird names for American cars, say ‘aye’…”Ayers then went on to make a few jokes at the expense of the rich, or at least those who will continue to have resources during the coming hard times, by alleging that a trend of “conspicuous thrift” will emerge: People who can, will buy Lexus hybrids or spend a fortune retrofitting their homes for alternative energy, etc. I think Ayers meant to bring on a few chuckles, but he underscores a larger point: There will be and should be a dimension of good taste in everyone recognizing a collective woe upon our citizens.A level of good taste that some Republicans have yet to display. Rush Limbaugh, whose name triggers circus calliope music every time I type it, got some mileage out of wishing ill on our new President. It’s almost viral the way you can’t retaliate on Limbaugh without simultaneously invoking his name and providing him with free advertising. But stay alert, Rush. Last week LA radio station KLSX switched from talk radio to a Top 40 music format. That station’s talk talents were hardly political, but it does bring one comfort to think that the stock in nattering for the sake of creating content is dropping. Of course I mean on radio and TV, not in print. Columnists are always going to be an important part of your balanced media meal. And if we are going to continue to matter, all of us who are fortunate enough to have any kind of forum for comment and observation, then we’re obligated to reflect the unity that hard times bring. Still, there will “politics” regardless of the overwhelming nature of what appears to be coming. I suppose it parallels the standard structure of horror and science fiction films, where there’s always that one greedy and fraidy-cat guy who tries to steal the only food left to save himself. Then, to the glee and delight of the audience, he’s eaten by a giant spider.Among the things that we’ll all be agreeing on is that we’ve passed the point where a level of mediocrity is accepted as standard operating procedure. To the same degree that laziness coupled with greed got us into this mess, so will we now expect to see excellence coupled with selfless striving. It’s a tall order for a nation that, not too long ago, was still on the fence about giving out too many awards too easily to our children. Everything now is going to come about as the result of hard work. Look for new populist street lingo like “sweat equity” and “investing in the future.” Reappearing in conversations will be words like “patience” and “faith.” And good riddance to anyone who tries to obstruct that just to make us think they’re helping.

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