New York

This Is Not Populism


Carefully tracking the party platform, Al Gore, with his pseudo-populist promise to defend us against the mysterious “powerful interests,” used his address to the Democratic convention to try trumping the Republicans at their old game of twisting the income tax into a subsidy machine.

Throughout the post-World War II era, reformers have struggled without success to disentangle the tax system from the pork-barrel subsidies embedded in it. The pork pipeline has been the single biggest device for doling out corporate welfare. Instead of directly enacting programs to benefit the citizenry, Clinton-Gore have joined the right-wing GOP in Congress to provide tax incentives for social welfare and other programs.

These tax write-offs may work for well-to-do middle-class nuclear families, but they are of little use to low-income blue-collar people, who have neither enough income to take advantage of the cut, nor the expertise to negotiate the red-tape filings. The alternative to having taxpayers write off prohibitive college tuition, for example, is to transform the nation’s higher-education system into a true institution of public education, free and open to all. That is not something that the Ivy Leaguers in the Democratic Leadership Council have in mind.

This is not populism, which swept the nation in the late 1800s as a reaction to the corporate pillage of the farm pioneers in the West and grew into a true communal movement, giving birth to the cooperative. Gore is not a populist. He is not against the corporate interests, but stands very much amid those interests and has allowed himself to be their pawn under Clinton. “I stand here tonight as my own man,” he told the Democratic convention.

Quite the contrary, he looks to be the man of Occidental Oil, the man of the zinc interests that pollute his native Tennessee rivers, the man of Maryland developers who made him into a politician during the 1980s, and of various corporate interests who use his Democratic Leadership Council as a public-relations machine.

Footnote: After last night’s speech, it’s hard to see how Bill Clinton can fit into Gore’s campaign. The rent-a-pundits in the press say the only way Gore can win is if Clinton runs his race for him, but that now seems unlikely, especially in light of reports that the president’s actions during Monicagate will be the subject for yet another Washington grand jury considering perjury and other charges against the president once he retires.

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