Barack Obama as Huey Long and other matters

Arguing economic populism (and other stuff) on bloggingheads with Glenn Loury

I didn’t hit my marks as well as I would have liked in this bloggingheads with Glenn Loury. At one point I was reduced to sputtering. We still had an interesting broad-ranging argument around whether Democrats threaten the republic by launching Huey-Long-style populist attacks on Mitt Romney over Bain Capital, whether Dan Savage threatens civility by being too mean to religious social conservatives, whether Mitt Romney comports himself as the upperclass twit of the year.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

4 thoughts on “Barack Obama as Huey Long and other matters”

  1. My opinions about the words in your short post:

    (a) Populist attacks on Mitt Romney over Bain Capital are a MISTAKE by the Dems. What they OUGHT to be emphasizing is not that Romney was a rapist of companies, but rather that the business background he claims to be valuable is actually the WRONG background for a national leader. A national leader doesn’t emphasize profit and loss, nor “brutal efficiency.” Rather, he often has to deal with making the best of a bad situation, meaning he must often choose to make small improvements, rather than simply “cutting his losses and moving on.”

    (b) Again (I know I’ve mentioned this before) I think the word “conservatives” is misused. “Religious social conservatives” are not “conservative,” they are reactionary. I think the Dems need to emphasize that many of the far-right fanatics who call themselves “conservative” are anything-but. A conservative thinks the government ought to do only what we need the government to do, and otherwise it ought to keep its nose out of our business. The Dems need to emphasize that the conservative model should be Dwight Eisenhower.

    (c) I think Romney’s comportment as a “twit” is a weak attack. Stronger, I think, and also much more important, is that Romney seems out of touch with the reality of most citizens. Some of the greatest leaders of both parties during my lifetime have been anywhere from affluent to very rich, but have nevertheless seemed to be in touch with the rest of us. I have total confidence that John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan all knew and understood the struggles of blue-collar workers. The Dems ought to be emphasizing that a president doesn’t have to have worked his way up from humble beginnings, but it’s important that he understand those of us who have.

    1. Ken,
      (a) President Obama is making this point. I am sure that they will also be pointing to Rmoney’s [sic] record as Governor of Massachusetts, which makes the point even more graphically.
      (b) It isn’t just the religious social conservatives who are reactionaries. While there seems to be substantial overlap between the religious social conservatives and the tea partiers, the tea partiers also qualify as reactionaries. I’d go so far as to say the entire base of the current GOP is better described by the word.
      (c) Rmoney is a twit. Rmoney seems out of touch because he is out of touch. His idea to require a three-year stint in bidnez as a Presidential requirement is just the latest bit of evidence. That requirement would have denied us Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton and Johnson. Okay, missing Reagan would have been a plus, and LBJ had a mixed record. Depending on the definition of in bidnez it could have denied us both Roosevelts and Woodrow Wilson.

  2. Huey Long would have had Romney and his advisors run out of the country by now, if not up on a row of lamp posts. But yes, democrats should make it clear that the Romney/Ryan plan for the country is basically the private-equity approach: terminate health benefits, “recapture” the pension fund, and fire everyone “unproductive” so that they can become someone else’s problem.

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