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March 10, 2011

People's Party 2011

There are tipping points in politics, societies, and economies. It may be that the events in Wisconsin (and other states with new Republican governors and legislatures) have brought us to a tipping point. We'll see.

In the last decade the Tea Party emerged and became the leading edge of the Right. Today's announcement signals the introduction of a similar initiative (in opposition to the Tea Party) called the People's Party. American politics has seen several Parties organized under that name before.

Words can become Orwellian over time. Periodically it is good to look anew to source documents, to see where we once were, and then to ponder how we got here. This post looks at the nascent People's Party, goes back to the People's Party of 1891-1908, and then goes further back to look at the Republicanist roots of the American Revolution. (using both sides of the blog page if necessary).

People's Party, 2011

First, the People's Party. Today's manifesto is delivered via the worthy Robert Reich, and purports to have been written in the state house of Wisconsin:
... the People’s Party will pressure Democrats in primaries and general elections leading up to 2012 and beyond to have the courage of the party’s core convictions. But unlike the Tea Party, which has been co-opted by the super-rich, the People’s Party represents the needs and aspirations of America’s vast working middle class.

The People’s Party is dedicated to the truth that America is a rich nation – richer by far than any other, richer than it’s ever been. The People’s Party rejects the claims of plutocrats who want us to believe we can no longer afford to live decently – who are cutting the wages and benefits of most people, attacking unions, and squeezing public budgets. The People’s Party will not allow them to turn us against one another – unionized against non-unionized, public employee against private employee, immigrant against native born. Nor will the People’s Party allow the privileged and powerful to distract us from the explosive concentration of income and wealth at the top, the decline in taxes paid by the top, and their increasing and untrammeled political power.

The People's Party is committed to:
1. Increasing the pay and bargaining power of average working people.
2. Requiring America’s super-rich to pay their fair share.
3. Protecting and expanding government programs vital to the working middle class and the poor.
4. Ending corporate welfare and cutting military outlays.
5. Saving Social Security while making it more progressive.
6. Ending Wall Street’s dominance of the economy and preventing future bailouts. Break up the largest banks.
7. Fully enforcing regulations that protect workers, consumers, small investors, and the environment. Raise penalties on violators.
8. Providing affordable health care to all Americans.
9. Slowing and eventually reversing climate change.
10. Getting big money out of politics.

Salon carries this from Reich:
Hear what they're saying: Stop attacking unions. Stop making scapegoats out of public employees. Stop protecting the super-rich from paying their fair share of the taxes needed to keep our schools running. Stop gutting the working middle class.

People's Party, 1971-1977

This incarnation of the People's Party presented Benjamin Spock as a 1972 candidate for President, running on a platform of free medical care, the repeal of "victimless crime" laws, the legalization of abortion, homosexuality, and marijuana, a guaranteed minimum income for families, and the immediate withdrawal of all American troops from foreign countries. Margaret Wright was the 1976 Presidential candidate, and the party disbanded in 1977.

Sidebar: Eisenhower on Labor Laws

"This is what I mean by my constant insistence on ‘moderation’ in government.
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Source: The Presidential Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, November 8, 1954.

People's Party, 1891 to 1908

From Wikipedia:
The People's Party, also known as the "Populists", was a short-lived political party in the United States established in 1891. Based among poor, white cotton farmers in the South and hard-pressed wheat farmers in the Plains states, it represented a radical crusading form of agrarianism and hostility to banks, railroads, and elites generally. It sometimes formed coalitions with labor unions. The terms "populist" and "populism" are commonly used for anti-elitist appeals in opposition to established interests and mainstream parties.

Populism was "the last significant expression of an old radical tradition that derived from Enlightenment sources that had been filtered through a political tradition that bore the distinct imprint of Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, and Lincolnian democracy." This tradition emphasized human rights over the cash nexus of the day's dominant ideology.

Republicanism vs 2011 Republicans

From wikipedia:
Republicanism (as opposed to contemporary Republicans) is the political value system that has been a major part of American civic thought since the American Revolution. It stresses liberty and inalienable rights as central values, makes the people as a whole sovereign, supports activist government to promote the common good, rejects inherited political power, expects citizens to be independent in their performance of civic duties, and vilifies corruption. This philosophy was based on early Roman, Renaissance and English models and ideas. It formed the basis for the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.

John Adams often pondered the issue of civic virtue and was concerned with the tension between the public interest and business. In 1776 he agreed with the Greeks and the Romans that, "Public Virtue cannot exist without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics." Adams insisted, "There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, ... established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. And this public Passion must be Superior to all private Passions".

Adams worried that a businessman might have financial interests that conflicted with republican duty; indeed, he was especially suspicious of banks. He decided that history taught that "the Spirit of Commerce ... is incompatible with that purity of Heart, and Greatness of soul which is necessary for a happy Republic." But so much of that spirit of commerce had infected America. In New England, Adams noted, "even the Farmers and Tradesmen are addicted to Commerce."

A second stream of thought that contributed to the Revolution was the classical liberalism of John Locke, including his theory of the "social contract". This had a great influence as it implied the inborn right of the people to overthrow their leaders should those leaders betray the agreements implicit in the sovereign-follower relationship. Although the "social contract" contributed to the American philosophy, the primary commitment was to republicanism.

When we think about American politics today, we think about political parties, but that has not always been the case. We have seen periods where various parties were significant, and periods when they were not.

The first wave of the Party system featured the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party, and came to a close with the Era of Good Feelings. The second wave involved the Jacksonian Democrats and the Whig Party. The Whigs later collapsed because of deaths among the leadership and a major internal argument over slavery.

The third wave of the American Party system stretched from 1854 to 1895, and was characterized by the emergence of the anti-slavery Republican Party, which adopted many of the Whigs' economic policies. The fourth wave kept the same parties as before, but saw major shifts in the central issues of debate. This period corresponded to the Progressive Era, and was dominated by the Republican Party.

Today's American Party system is dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party; they have won every presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856.

From time to time, several other third parties achieve relatively minor representation at the national and state levels. At this time, we have the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party. The Tea Party is a recent addition.

There have been ephemeral third parties: the Yippies in the 1960's, or the Reform Party in the 1990's are recent examples.

The question I find interesting in today's news is: Are we really at a tipping point? Will this People's Party persist, or will they pass away like a fringe movement?

We'll see.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is time to change the political climate in favor of the people, the middle/working class americans who make this country great. The Republican and Tea Parties will make us a third world country with only 2 classes: the Super Rich and their workers.
Power to the Peoples Party

Anonymous said...

who would i need to contact to gain permission to reprint portions of this web page to another web page in addition to paper copies for distribution among the People? Please contact me at:

thank you

Vannevar said...

Permission granted.
If you want to provide a link back to this page,
thats great but not a requirement.


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