Posted on | April 29, 2011 | 19 Comments
Honestly, I ought to ignore this, but it’s already everywhere else so I might as well do it:
Y’know, there’s good populism — defending the honest interests of ordinary people against corrupt machinations of the elite — and then there’s bad populism: Bully-boy nonsense that appeals to idiots who can’t be bothered with facts.
Protectionist tariffs aimed at punishing foreign economic competitors are as idiotic as high income taxes aimed at punishing “the rich.” Both are bad policies which are supported by ignoramuses who cannot grasp that scapegoating villains is no substitute for sound economic policies.
Slapping a 25-percent tariff on Chinese imports would be bad policy, harmful to American consumers. It would take less time to explain what’s wrong with protectionism than it takes Donald Trump to advocate it, but because it appeals to that ignorant bully-boy instinct, why bother arguing the point? Trump is simply wrong, and if you don’t understand why he’s wrong, it’s unlikely that any argument I offer will persuade you to oppose the nonsensical policy he advocates.
Part of the problem here is the failure of Republican political spokemen to articulate the arguments for economic freedom. If the GOP were more consistently in favor of genuine free-market policies (a major failing of the Bush administration), and would take the time to explain why free-market policies are better for everyone, rich and poor alike (which was Ronald Reagan’s great strength), then neither “populist” protectionism nor “populist” class-warfare rhetoric would have any hope of success.
Another part of the problem, as liberal academic Michael Kazin recently bemoaned in the New Republic, is the fathomless ignorance of independent “swing” voters. Some of Kazin’s critics have slammed him as an elitist snob, but he is correct in saying that most independents are “just a confused and clueless horde . . . more myopic than moderate.”
This is not the same as saying these people are all stupid. Rather, it is a recognition that the more attention people pay to current events and public policy, the more likely they are to identify either as Democrats or Republicans. All these pundits who blather about “bipartisanship” are missing the point: Partisanship is a good thing, because it forcuses and clarifies policy differences, and encourages voter interest in public affairs.
Many people who describe themselves as “independent” are, in reality, just people who don’t pay much attention to politics. And there is nothing wrong with ignoring politics, except when you begin encouraging such ignorant people to vote. “Swing” voters tend to be very superficial, judging candidates on the basis of how they come across on TV (this is why the televised debates are often so decisive in presidential elections). And “swing” voters are also usually bandwagon-jumpers, who like to vote for whichever candidate they think will be the likely winner.
Samuel Popkin has postulated the “low-information rationality” theory of how people who don’t pay much attention to politics make their decisions at election time. And Popkin believes that, at the bottom line, such people are reasonably good judges of their own interests. They may occasionally be deceived by an opportunistic charlatan, but usually rectify their errors when the deceptions are finally exposed.
All of which is to say that while the Trump “bubble” is discouraging, it is unlikely to last very long.
(Hat tip: Left Coast Rebel.)