Peter Beinert has an op-ed in the Washington Post today. And it kinda sorta makes sense, even if it's conclusions are not terribly groundbreaking.
As an aside, I tend to read Beinert's columns like I read those of David Brooks--with interest but still looking for the subtle incongruities beneath the parts I find myself agreeing with. With Brooks it's the illiberal notions he's purposely cloaking in genial tones. With Beinert it's more a matter of uncritically passing off some myth or piece of conventional wisdom.
His topic today is Republican "populism", which he says is in iminent danger now that the GOP has held the reigns of power for the past couple of decades, and as a result, has become the government elite it has long claimed to battle for the benefit of Real Americans. And now, Beinert says, the movement's populism is turning against itself. Like in the case of immigration for instance, where the party's nativist grassroots is in conflict with the party's corporatist cash cows and smoke-filled room decisionmakers. Add the problems presented by an unpopular president and an unpopular war, the party's in a fix.
Now, while I appreciate Beinert's upbeatedness here, the point really is that the Republican Party is not and has never been in any real, meaningful sense, populist. I can't tell if Beinert recognizes this and just doesn't make hay out of it, or if he recognizes that Republican "populism" has been rhetorical rather than substantive for four decades, or if he in some way believes that the Republican Party has genuinely been the populist party all these years, and now, regrettably, having dethroned and replaced the country's governing elite, it's balking at going all the way to challenge and dismantle the corporate elite, too.
See what I mean?
Most troubling is Beinert's assertion that the Bush Administration's NSA spying and other civil liberty violations is to be regarded as "populism". Fortunately, Beinert acknowledges that this scheme finally failed in 2006 and likely won't work next year either. And Beinert puts down in print the conundrum that is the Bush Administration, and the conservative movement's, "war on terror" politics: without actual events and catastrophes confirming the threat, the party's electoral prospects will be undermined and the work needed to craft something like a policy or governing agenda all the more put off. And without a galvenizing issue, the party's faux populism is fracturing the party.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.