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Commentary Last Updated: Jun 11th, 2008 - 00:43:12

Reflections on David Sirota�s 'The Uprising'
By Joseph Danison
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 11, 2008, 00:14

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Philadelphia Sheriff John Green �Doesn�t Do Foreclosures, to Lender�s Dismay,� reports Michael Phillips in the Wall Street Journal on June 6. There were about 1,000 properties a month in Philadelphia County coming up for sheriff�s auction earlier this year, until March, that is, when Sheriff Green declined to do the court�s dirty work of enforcing these financial contracts.

It should be noted that the county sheriff is the only elected law enforcement office in the land, and therefore not strictly a mercenary gun-for-hire, as federal law enforcement tends to be. �It�s the sheriff�s job to serve the people who elected him,� said Deputy Paris Washington, department veteran and head of training. �Because he was elected by the people, he has to listen to the people. Aren�t the people the law?�

Well, that�s a pithy question, Deputy Washington. It depends on your politics. If you�re a populist, that is to say, a Jeffersonian small �d� democrat, the answer is �yes.� The disconnect between the rules and the will of the people who make them, in a democracy, is not extreme, and the laws, indeed, the whole government itself, can be changed to accord with the will of the people as conditions require. According to the Declaration of Independence, that is. On the other hand, if you�re an elitist, let�s say, a neoconservative corporatist globalizing SOB, a Tom Friedman, let�s say, you will subscribe to the golden rule, which states that those who have the gold make the rules. In terms of the political configurations of the Revolutionary period, this would align you with Alexander Hamilton and the High Federalists, the anti-democratic elements in the American political genome.

Let me pause to water the grave of William F. Buckley, Jr. It�s good for the grass and the flowers.

David Sirota�s new book, The Uprising, describes itself as �An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington.� I was unaware of this populist revolt. As a populist myself, I was naturally curious because I don�t relish being on the endangered species list. Had the movement started without me?

Chapter one introduces the author after a night�s revelry, disoriented and hung-over in his room at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, site of the first annual YearlyKos Convention, where disembodied bloggers converge out of cyberspace to assume flesh and blood form and just be people, populists, presumably.

In the past, where the term populism originates, specifically in a rustic cabin in Pleasant Valley, Lampasas County, Texas, in the year 1877, populism was not yet populism; it was merely an aggregation of hard scrabble farmers in west Texas fed up with being exploited by the merchants, the bankers, and the railroads. They weren�t going to take it anymore. They were going to bring to life again what seemed to them to be the dying promise of the Constitution that proclaimed a new government by and for �we the people� to establish Justice and promote the General Welfare, among other laudable intents.

Populist was not a term these sweaty, rawboned farmers applied to themselves. They called themselves �The Farmer�s Alliance.� They were driven by the desire to create what we call today a �level playing field.� This is not to be confused with Tom Friedman�s �flat world,� that delusional web of glib sophistry that these antique farmers would have recognized instantly as the spawn of Hell. They were careful Bible readers and abstemious in their habits. An Alliance man would have concealed his drunkenness at all costs.

This is not to imply criticism of David Sirota�s excesses. Tea totaling is not a qualification for membership in a populist movement. Sirota�s book is inspirational. He has a novelist�s narrative gift, a feel for compelling detail, and trenchant insight into the political process. He�s entertaining. The populist uprising, he says, is happening inside the system, with people like Brian Schweitzer, Democratic governor of traditionally Republican Montana; Dennis Kucinich, �a short extraterrestrial-looking dude� we all know; Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party in NY; Sherrod Brown, senator from Ohio; Jon Tester, senator from Montana; Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator sui generis; Lou Dobbs of �Lou Dobbs Tonight,� CNN�s man of the people; Carl Braun, head of the California Minutemen; Marcus Courtney, president of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers; and dissident shareholders of blue chip corporations.

These and others, canny political operatives all, are part of the �uprising� within. Meanwhile, outside, Code Pink is raising a ruckus, to no great effect. The Protest Industry can�t get the job done.

Having done the Sirota tour and inhabited briefly and superficially the political reality of these various actors in this putative movement, I am left to ponder the difference, if any, between progressive politics and a true populist uprising. The terms are not clearly defined, and I am not going to undertake the task of defining them. That would be tedious. Sirota, wisely, does not go there. If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it�s a duck. So, what�s a duck? You�ll know it when you see it. Like Jesus. Maybe.

But there is one glaring difference between ye olde People�s Party and latter day political activity that styles itself populist, or progressive. The Farmer�s Alliance that became the People�s Party, a powerful third party in the oppressive binary system and elected governors and members in many state legislatures and in the US Senate and House, understood that a truly populist government, as prescribed in the Constitution, would never truly exist unless and until the financial system came under popular control. The original populists descried the privatized monetary system of their day and were sophisticated enough in their understanding of money to know that radical monetary reform was the sine qua non of true populist, i.e., constitutionally-based politics.

This means, in a word, a nationalized banking system.

None of Sirota�s progressive actors, nor Sirota himself, offers any critique of the privatized financial system that underlies the patterns of economic injustice that tend to put people in an uprising mood. The mood of homeowners in Philadelphia, to which populist Sheriff John Green is so sensitive, is a case in point. I submit, Sheriff John Green is the only true populist officeholder I can think of offhand at this moment, and that includes Sirota�s cast of characters, and Green is headed for the meat grinder, sure as shit.

This is where the rubber meets the road, progressives, and wannabe populists.

So, even though I said I wouldn�t, I will define the difference between progressives and true populists. The progressive tries to game a rigged system to work in the people�s interest. He�s a true Sisyphus. His chance of getting that stone over the top and achieving a permanent state of popular political control is slim to none. The populist wants to fundamentally change the system, eliminate that insuperable mountain, that is, de-privatize it, so that it operates in the interest of the General Welfare. It currently does not, nor will it ever do so, so long as the money power is in private hands.

A populist, as opposed to a progressive, is therefore in our day, a de facto revolutionary because only a revolution can wrest the money power from private hands and return it to popular control as prescribed in the Constitution, Article 1, Section 8

Joseph Danison is a novelist and general contractor living and working in the mountains of Western North Carolina, near Asheville.

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