In the American political lexicon, few words are as prevalent — or as confusing — as “populism.”
The Great Debate
The party that brought you “death panels” and “socialized medicine” has rolled out another term — carefully selected, like the others, for its power to freak people out. “Court-packing” now joins a Republican rogue’s gallery of poll-tested epithets.
After the nation’s major social program finally became law, critics regularly blamed it for a slowing economy and a swelling federal bureaucracy. Fierce congressional opposition led to the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to overhaul the measure. Obamacare in 2013? Not quite. It was Social Security in 1937.
We have been told throughout this presidential campaign that the contest is a referendum about two visions of government, one activist, the other passive ‑ like every presidential election since 1980. But that may actually understate the stakes. In a larger context, it is a choice between maintaining the last 80 years of American governance or abruptly ending it.
Liaquat Ahamed is the author of “Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World”, a book about the causes of the Great Depression to be published by Penguin Press in January 2009. After working as an economist at the World Bank, he spent twenty-five years as a professional investment manager in London and New York. The opinions expressed are his own.