THE POPULIST. Jim Webb's Wall Street Journal op-ed today is a full-throated blast of up-with-the-people populism. He spends four paragraphs fiercely decrying "our society's steady drift toward a class-based system," attacking out-of-control CEO pay and decrying the middle class squeeze. But the really fascinating bit comes when he settles into the fight and picks his targets.
This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism.
Still others have gone so far as to argue that these divisions are the natural results of a competitive society. Furthermore, an unspoken insinuation seems to be inundating our national debate: Certain immigrant groups have the "right genetics" and thus are natural entrants to the "overclass," while others, as well as those who come from stock that has been here for 200 years and have not made it to the top, simply don't possess the necessary attributes.
That first paragraph lashing indifferent and unconcerned elites is strong stuff, but the second deserves an article of its own. The Weekly Standardand others suggested Webb would prove a xenophobe. In fact, it looks like quite the opposite. He's explicitly tying his beloved white ethnics (he has, in the past, written a book glorifying that under-glorified and undernoted white ethnic group, the Scots-Irish) to Hispanic immigrants, setting both in opposition to the Protestant overclass (and possibly Jews). He's not, it would seem, a neopopulist. He's an actual populist. An old-style populist. Glance through reviews of his book on the Scots-Irish -- every one of them contains a fusillade aimed at educated elites. It touches a chord with readers, and not the usual, sentimental one plucked by most up-with-our-ancestors tomes.
I've really no idea who precisely Webb is targeting or what precisely he wants to do. But he's definitely going to be the most interesting new pol we've seen for awhile.