Populism pollutes democracy

So, if you’ve watched the news recently, you may be getting the feeling that it’s a good time to invest in pitchforks.It seems that any day now the populist mob will sweep across the country in its dual-descent on Washington D.C. and Wall Street.That’s the way it goes in the world of pundits.A few weeks ago, we were discussing the negative  correlation between Rush Limbaugh’s waistline and his influence on the Republican Party.Now we’ve moved on to the fun world of populist alarmism.Will populism ruin Obama’s presidency? What will happen to AIG? How will we dispose of the beheaded bodies of Wall Street executives?It’s clear there’s no shortage of questions. It’s a shame that they’re all the wrong ones.The real issue we should be discussing is far more fundamental.Is populism even a good thing?I’m pretty convinced it’s not.The problem with populism is that it’s not really an ideology. It’s an attitude. There are left-wing populists and right-wing populists.The common denominator between Jerry Falwell and Huey Long isn’t their politics, it’s their disposition.Populism is really just anger and jealousy manifested into a political orientation.Their victims are varied — minorities, Wall Street, the government, the rich, “the liberal media,” activist judges, you name it — but the approach is the same.It’s us against them, and you had better be angry.It’s almost shocking how incompatible this mentality is with the notion of government maintained by our founding fathers.In Federalist Papers 10, he warned of the dangers of an excessively fragmented public.”It is the reason of the public alone that ought to control and regulate the government. The passions ought to be controlled and regulated,” Madison wrote.If Madison is any judge — and he is — populism directly conflicts with positive democratic governance.Still, it’s probably not going anywhere.Even before the AIG scandal, America still got a low dose of populism every night on the cable news.Whether it’s Bill O’Reilly’s I-can-yell-louder-than-you populism, or Lou Dobbs’ everyone’s-failed-America-but-me populism, we love to butt our emotions into places they don’t belong.America’s anger at the opportunistic AIG execs was mostly justified. But no one was more opportunistic about the affair than the media.To satisfy their need for heated politics, they distracted America from the financial crisis for a drop-in-the-bucket of the bailout. And another week of the recession went by.That’s the real side of populism. And it’s ugly.