Will a conservative or liberal agenda be at the center of national politics during the next four years? No matter how centrist George W. Bush and Al Gore sound, that is what the fall election is still fundamentally about. Conservatives seem to understand the choice and have lined up behind Bush. Many liberals don't and are withholding their support from Gore. If that ambivalence persists--according to polls through July, Gore draws less support from Democrats than Bush does from Republicans--it could signal low turnout, defections to Nader, and disaster for the Democrats in November, with enormous consequences for the future.
It was just about 100 years ago, after the defeat of William Jennings Bryan in 1896, that the original, agrarian Populist movement collapsed and gave way to the more broadly based Progressivism of the early 1900s that permanently altered American government and society. But Populism, despite its short and checkered history, survives in our political vocabulary, and there are a fair number of people who brighten up at the thought of a populist revival. I am, however, not among them.
Most of us like to think that our views
represent the innermost beliefs of the majority of our fellow citizens. Recent
polls may show a ridiculous preference for a position we despise, our candidates
may lose at election time, and the radio may broadcast music or talk that we
abhor. But we know that all this is ephemeral: Deep in their hearts, the
majority agree with us about what is right and good. And if they don't say so or
act accordingly just now, the trend is moving in our direction. Let those who
think differently tremble at the verdict of an awakened nation.
its founding nearly three years ago, The American Prospect has
sought to help reconstruct a plausible and persuasive liberalism.
This issue's cluster of articles concerned with a public
strategy for economic growth exemplifies that purpose:
detailed thinking about how to solve the nation's problems,
than symbolic gestures. Yet, as this political season has
us, there is another aspect to the conflict over public ideas in
America that is inevitably and properly symbolic. It is a battle
over cultural ideals, ways of life, the meaning of the past. And