Why, liberals wonder, don’t populists vote their economic interest?

William Hogeland in the Boston Review:

110 Because populism seeks, ostensibly, to enshrine and advance the rights and hopes of ordinary people, and because liberalism believes itself to be those rights’ best protection, populism’s rightward allegiances can be distressingly counterintuitive for liberals. Why, liberals wonder, don’t populists vote their economic interest? Liberals have long been asking about the white working class’s tendency to vote for Republican candidates, whose programs benefit the wealthy, and to reject the Democrats, whose programs, liberals keep insisting, benefit the working class. Liberals look wistfully to the New Deal days, when their predecessors banded together with populists and elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt president four times.

Yet the New Deal was a brief and possibly exceptional period, full of changes so big and important that it tends to block our longer-range historical view. American political and cultural life has more often involved mutual incomprehension and outright hostility between liberalism and populism. Repeatedly in U.S. history, the two have defined themselves publicly, as they are doing now, by rhetorical rejection of the other. Both ways of thinking may be fundamentally American, but that also may be all they share.

More here.

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