WHAT DO THE POPULISTS WANT? It seems to me that Noam Scheiber's column on Ned Lamont's populism suffers from a couple undefined premises. What, for instance, does the populism of Ned Lamont and the netroots actually seek? Scheiber indicates that it's a more fundamental critique of capitalism and corporations than the New Democrat wing of the party would tolerate. I'd like to see the evidence. It's been my impression that the more strident a class warrrior's rhetoric, the more banal his set of solutions. Lamont, for instance, isn't advocating massive increases in marginal tax rates, but universal health care. He doesn't want to break up Wal-Mart through an antitrust suit, he wants them to pay better wages and let their workers unionize. It's populism-lite, asking merely that the corporations be a bit more kind and gentle, or at least allow the government to do the kind and gentle things the corporations seem unwilling to pay for. The first stirrings of class revolution this is not.
So far as that sort of populism goes in the Democratic coalition, even the prototypical New Democrat Bill Clinton sought a universal health care plan, so it's a bit hard to argue that that wing of the party is instantly opposed to such ventures. Meanwhile, as Scheiber's colleague John Judis argues, you can actually go rather far in finding wealthy supporters of movements that would drain their own bank accounts. One of the nice things about being rich, I guess, is that it frees you up to worry about the morality of your accumulated treasure.