11/16/2009, Volume 015, Issue 09
The Palin Persuasion
A case for the new populism.
by Matthew Continetti
If Sarah Palin visits Nashville on her book tour, she really ought to stop by the Hermitage. Andrew Jackson's plantation is a lot more than a beautifully restored example of Greek Revival architecture and design. It's also a monument to the seventh president's democratic legacy–of rule by the people, of competitive commercial markets, of entrepreneurial individuals lighting out to the territories. It's a legacy to which Palin is heiress. And one she ought to embrace.
To be sure, by today's standards, Jackson's record is mixed. He was a slaveowner whose Indian policy was nothing less than cruel. His war on the Second Bank of the United States had some dreadful economic consequences. But, when we look at Jackson today, the positive traits stand out. More than any other politician of his era, he aligned himself with the common man against self-dealing elites. Lacking formal education, he nonetheless understood that incumbents, whether in the market or in politics, raise barriers to entry in order to protect their positions. And because he sought to unsettle those entrenched interests, Jackson was at the vanguard of a spirited popular upheaval.
The Jacksonian era was the first populist moment in American politics. But it wasn't the last. There is something about the structure of American democracy that encourages periodic upsurges in popular opinion directed at nogood-niks on the East Coast. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Democratic congressman and thrice presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan rallied his followers against agglomerations of power in New York
and Washington. In Jackson's time, the bad guys had been Nicholas Biddle, his bank, and supporters of the tariff. In Bryan's time, the bad guys were the corporate monopolists who squelched individual risk-taking and their bag-men in the legislature whose monetary and trade policies favored big business over the small farmer.
via The Palin Persuasion.