Populists vs. Puppets

Posted by Terri McCormick On September - 19 - 2014

On Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008, one day after the Wisconsin presidential primary election, Governor Mike Huckabee, a modernday populist, made the following statement on national television during an interview by Joe Scarborough:

Myth vs. RealityI was threatened to have my arms and legs broken and to get out of the race. I don’t know about you, but if elections don’t belong to the people in the Republican Party, the Party will be destroyed. I would like to think that the Republican Party is mature enough, big enough and smart enough that it actually knows that competition breeds excellence and the lack of competition breeds mediocrity.”


Populism embodies a faith in the intelligence of people and a faith that the people can and will face adversity and lead themselves forward. It is an abiding principle that is set in our founding documents as a free people. It is as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of the Independence, “Government exists for the governed, so that the inalienable rights of the people may be protected.” Jefferson goes on to define “government as instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” If we were to study the Declaration of Independence as adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, and signed by John Hancock as president and by Charles Thomson as secretary, we would solidly understand that government of the people is our collective right as a free nation.

The notion that the voters would like to get past the nonsense of politics and get to solutions to better society is populist thinking. Populist politicians are self-identified public servants who strive to make a difference and an impact on the lives of the people they serve. Populism also implies a healthy skepticism in politicians who would hide from the people or patronize them—especially if those who hide from the public believe only a chosen few have the ability to take care of the public.


Elitism can be defined as the belief that a chosen few—the political class—are best suited to make decisions for the majority. The elitists are the experts, and the common man should not be trusted to make decisions concerning his own welfare or what is best for the country. This was recently made very clear by comments from Vice President Dick Cheney when he was interviewed on MSNBC.

Cheney was asked for his response to the recent indication that two-thirds of Americans now oppose remaining in Iraq.

Cheney’s succinct retort was “So?”

The Iraq war may be the single most important issue in recent history that significantly differentiates elite and populist thinking.

Conversely, Democratic elites may believe that the educational and welfare establishments are more capable of making educational and welfare choices than their lower socioeconomic clients. Political party elites on both sides of the aisle are sharpening the intensity of the economic debate in order to argue that their side is better able to care for the American people. The question is: which party elite will be working to empower people and which party elite will be working to enable people?


The political debate today is not between political parties— Republicans, Democrats or Independents. Americans are experiencing a realignment of power, based on public opinion on the issues (public evils) and on the candidates (public trust). This demand for change by the people is resulting in a realignment of party majorities at the polls. Jeffrey Bell’s work in 1992 first tracked populist and elitist behaviors in his research at the Manhattan Institute and the JFK Institute of Politics at Harvard. Bell attributes the realignment, or shift, of the public’s support between the two political parties as “our democracy’s version of revolution.”14

We have witnessed the public’s revolution against the Republican political majority most recently in 2006, with the congressional midterm elections. The need for solutions rather than bickering and stalemate has resulted in a horizontal politic that has profoundly changed the political landscape. Voters lost faith in the Republican Party to deliver the conservative agenda that it had promised. With the exponential spending of the 108th Congress, as well as its growing numbers of Republican scandals, the voters punctuated their disdain by voting the Republicans out of power in 2006. Candidates like James Webb of West Virginia, former cabinet appointee of Ronald Reagan, successfully ran as a Democratic, toppling a Republican stronghold for the United States Senate. Webb’s campaign was not about party; it was about public service.

How did this populist phenomenon take shape? In my estimation, the people woke up and quite simply recognized that the emperor had no clothes. Voters looked beyond the political campaign propaganda and into the land of show-me politics. Candidates known to be fresh, bright and full of new ideas were welcomed onto the political stage. The new billboards posted outside our state and national capitols now read: Truth Seekers and Problem Solvers Welcome. No One Else Need Apply.

The party labels of the past were not only proven to be obsolete, but they also proved to be fraught with empty promises and few results. The public was left holding the tab for political parties run amuck, building cold war—like silos, entrenched in their own personal agendas. The do-nothing Congress of the past was and is no longer acceptable. The public was hit squarely in the jaw on bread-and-butter issues—the energy crisis, the housing crisis, the mortgage crisis and the Wall Street crisis all have convinced the voting public that something has got to give!

The voting public is now awake, engaged and on a mission to take their government backTo continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

Terri McCormick honored for excellence in government relations by Cambridge's Who's Who industry experts