Can Populism Be Popular?


Al Gore’s rhetorical shift in emphasis during the campaign, from fiscal responsibility to a form of populism addressed to “working families,” calls for some discussion. The Democrats spent years repositioning themselves as “New Democrats,” a party of moderates. This was an effort in which both Bill Clinton and Gore were closely involved through most of their political careers. Candidates not just for president of the United States, but also for Congress and state and local offices, and for the chief executive positions in Britain, Germany, and Israel, have successfully run on the new moderate liberalism. So Gore’s shift seems a surprise, although less so, perhaps, in view of George W. Bush’s appropriating some of the New Democrats’ territory with his rhetoric of “compassionate conservatism.”

For years, too, Democrats who would not call themselves New Democrats have been meeting, thinking, and reformulating a Democratic policy without most of us much noticing, and out of these efforts have come several distinct competing prescriptions to help their party win elections without moving it to the center. Two such prescriptions are at hand in the most recent books by Theda Skocpol and John Judis. (Skocpol’s book, in fact, calls upon the Democrats to use the catch phrase “working families.”) If Gore wins the election while maintaining his present positions, then the questions of what kinds of policies his new populist slogans would suggest and how or whether they can be put into effect become important. Both books under review are useful in suggesting at least what the tenor of Washington debate might be, if not what, if any, actual changes might occur.

Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard, and John Judis, an author and writer for The New Republic and The American Prospect, are both prolific advocates of social reform. Judis, who began his career as a writer for the Chicago socialist weekly In These Times, and Skocpol, whose first two published books were called States and Social Revolutions and Marxist Inquiries, might once have described themselves as democratic socialists, and might now describe themselves as social democrats. Both are disturbed about the high disparity in wealth in the United States: today the richest one half percent of America’s taxpayers receive 11 percent of its total income. Both believe the level of “social provision” (Skocpol’s term) ought to be increased. Both support greater government intervention in the economy—Judis mostly in the form of labor and trade legislation, Skocpol mostly in the form of entitlement programs. More generally, they both believe that the national government ought to take a larger part in the effort to improve the economic, political, and social situation of people with income below the median.

In other countries these goals tend to be pursued in a straightforward way: a party of the left is formed which seeks to gain as much influence and power as it can. But in America such parties have only very rarely been more than marginal. In the national elections of 1892 and 1894 the Populists won over a million votes. In 1896, with William Jennings Bryan’s run for the presidency as a Democrat, populist sentiment peaked: Bryan won more than six million popular votes (although only 152 electoral votes). It was downhill from there. Under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs, the Socialists got more than 900,000 votes in the presidential elections of 1912 and 1920, but then faded away.

For the past eighty years left-wing parties have been marginal to national politics. Ralph Nader’s Green Party can at best serve to put pressure on the Democrats for reforms, and at worst cause a Democratic defeat. Today even organized labor, much revived after John J. Sweeney took over the AFL-CIO in 1995, represents an ever-decreasing portion of the workforce (now at 13.9 percent) and is hardly strong enough to start its own political party. Under Sweeney’s leadership labor did put $35 million into various Democratic campaigns in 1996, which surely made a difference in the fortunes of President Clinton and many members of Congress.

Yet there have been enough periods when the country seemed to be moving to “the left”—that is, closer to the goals of income redistribution and expansion of the welfare state—to keep hope alive for their fulfillment. Because any hope for a successful party of the left seems vain, the question arises whether a more indirect approach will move the American polity in a more egalitarian direction. (“Movement” conservatives who believe in reducing the size and power of government and lowering taxes carry on a debate similar to the left’s over the best means of advancing their cause.)

The country last seemed to be moving left during the mid-Sixties and early Seventies—the period bounded by the presidential election of Lyndon Johnson and the reelection of Richard Nixon. Although income inequality decreased during those years (the top 5 percent of households received 16.6 percent of national income in 1968, as compared to 21.4 percent in 1998) and the government’s effect on social and economic life increased, the demands expressed by the activists of the Sixties were not mainly about economics and the size of the federal government. In their rhetoric, civil rights and minority advancement generally, an end to the Vietnam War, a strong environmental policy, greater individual freedom, and, later, equality for women were paramount. As national politics became more conservative during the Seventies, the question of why the ideology of the Sixties had proven so perishable was more than wistful. The standard answer was that a stable political order cannot be built on crusades for social justice and personal liberation. The causes of the Sixties did not have the support of strong enough organizations or a large enough political constituency. And, perhaps more importantly, they were perceived as benefiting unpopular groups, such as African-Americans and the poor, rather than the middle class. To sell a program with an argument like “It’s the right thing to do” or “It will help black people” is to doom it to failure.

When President Clinton took office, it was obvious that he had heard this theory. William Julius Wilson, the Harvard professor who is one of the country’s leading social democrats, was one of Clinton’s informal advisers on social policy, and Clinton’s chief pollster in those days, Stanley Greenberg, is another prominent American social democrat.1 In his speeches Clinton talked frequently about the problems of working people and the middle class, about those of poor people very rarely, if at all. Indeed, one of his campaign promises in 1992 was to “end welfare as we know it”—meaning, it turned out, close down Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the country’s leading program aimed at the poor—and another was to introduce a program of universal health insurance, which would affect millions of people (and presumably cement their loyalty to the Democratic Party). Part of the appeal of health care reform was that it was also a way to help the most needy Americans without its being labeled, as AFDC was, a program for the disadvantaged. By far the biggest social program that Clinton managed to get through Congress was a $21 billion (spread over five years) expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit—a subsidy for the working poor, not the very worst off. If you don’t have a job, the Earned Income Tax Credit does you no good.

The year that Clinton was elected president, Theda Skocpol published her ambitious book Protecting Soldiers and Mothers.2 In this historical account of government-benefit programs, she shows that the most successful were those aimed at helping people who came across to the public as admirable, or at least unthreatening. Her best example is the generous pensions for Civil War veterans, which, she shows, were central to the Republican Party’s rise during the late nineteenth century. The party that today claims to be the enemy of big government and tax-and-spend policies would never have become dominant in the early twentieth century, according to Skocpol, if it hadn’t put tax revenues into the hands of Civil War veterans, who thus became the party’s core constituency.3

Four years later, Skocpol published Boomerang,4 a short book that documented the conception and collapse of the Clintons’ health care plan. The book was based on confidential White House papers, which she had managed to gain access to. In it, Skocpol persuasively blames the failure of health care reform on the Clintons’ fear of raising taxes to cover the cost of the program. The money to pay for broader health care coverage was to come not from the government but from employers, according to a highly complicated set of rules. These, she writes, added hundreds of pages to the final version of the bill, which made it an easy target for caricature, particularly by conservatives. The public never clearly understood the bill, small-business interest groups opposed it, and Skocpol, unlike many other observers, seems to believe it was doomed from the start. Yet however flawed the Clintons’ plan was, Skocpol ends Boomerang by asking whether any proposal at all for an ambitious new government program could have much chance of success. It is this question that Skocpol directly addresses in her most recent book, The Missing Middle.

For the last few years Skocpol has been examining the history of membership organizations in the United States. American intellectuals have recently become quite interested in promoting “civil society.” Both liberal social theorists like Harvard’s Robert Putnam5 and conservative religious thinkers like Boston University’s Peter Berger, whose work over the years forms part of the foundation on which Bush’s idea of “compassionate conservatism” rests, consider the genius of American society to reside in small, voluntary local organizations that stand apart from, or even in opposition to, government. Some of these—churches, community-development groups, and business cooperatives—perform social welfare functions, though only within their own neighborhoods. Skocpol has made a contrary argument: that while it is true that since the early nineteenth century, Americans have been forming local groups, the most effective of them became national, and were successful in pressing for government benefits.

Veterans’ organizations are an example. In addition to those for Civil War veterans that Skocpol described in Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, the American Legion was responsible for the college education provision in the GI Bill after World War II, an entitlement that was opposed by many leading educators, including James Bryant Conant of Harvard. If people were to participate more actively in local associations, Skocpol thinks, they would naturally move on toward broader, that is, national, political activity, and this activity would in turn have the effect of helping to expand the welfare state. In other words, it’s only a few steps from beer on Wednesday nights at the VFW hall to getting Congress to pass a bill for veterans’ benefits.

We’ve been so heavily conditioned to think of interest groups as a negative force in American politics that Skocpol’s argument that they should be encouraged seems at first startling. But they are the bedrock, she believes, on which a good society rests. The trouble with the country today, she maintains, is that the kind of interest groups she favors, groups that would press for government benefits for ordinary people, aren’t powerful enough. The most prominent among them, like the American Association of Retired Persons, are not genuine local organizations; that is, rather than having active members who meet face to face, they are simply giant mailing lists run by political consultants.

Virtually the only current organization that meets Skocpol’s standard is the Christian Coalition, which does have active local chapters (though this is less true now than it was ten years ago). Certainly the major political parties have atrophied as organizations with members who are in personal contact. Partly as a result of the decline of organizations, Skocpol believes, the spirit of individualism and commercialism has become rampant in American culture. The voices she thinks ought to be heard, mainly those of blue-collar people, have too little political influence.

For Skocpol the model of a successful American government program is Social Security. “To be truly workable,” she writes, “social programs must express widely shared values, must find support from broad swatches of the citizenry.” The implied values of Social Security, that benefits should be linked to work and that younger Americans should take care of older ones, have broad support throughout the country. In every presidential campaign the candidates must pledge their allegiance to Social Security; Bush, in proposing its partial privatization, has taken pains to assure the public that the program will remain completely safe.

That Social Security is politically untouchable is, by definition, proof that it is successful, at least by Skocpol’s lights. She is witheringly dismissive of Peter G. Peterson, who has presented Social Security as financially troubled, wasteful, protective of the more affluent, and regressive in its taxing scheme, as well as an unfair burden on the young, who are forced to support the elderly.6 She says Social Security is “America’s most effective program for preventing impoverishment” and one of the “supreme achievements of American democracy,” as well as one of the “capstones of the good life for most Americans.” Critics like Peterson “do not fully understand American politics”; they produce “selected projections” in order to convince the public to slash shared public programs for the elderly in the name of “helping ‘our children and grandchildren’ win some abstract generational war.”

That the elderly today are among the country’s better-off groups testifies to the greatness of Social Security, Skocpol says. What Americans who are badly off need is their own version of Social Security. But what would it be—or, to put the question in Skocpol’s terms, what kind of beneficiary would be as effective as soldiers and mothers once were in giving such a benefit sacramental status? There is little disagreement about where the most pressing problems in social welfare are: the United States, Skocpol reminds us, has the highest rate of single motherhood and the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world—each category encompasses more than a fifth of our children. The problem is that these mothers and children are disproportionately black and urban, which makes them unpopular targets for federal largesse. Clinton signed the law ending the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program at a time when his reelection campaign was coming into view, having been told by his then political adviser, Dick Morris, that if he didn’t he would lose.

In order to gain support for poor families headed by single mothers, some liberals champion the cause of “children.” Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund has done this for decades. Skocpol rightly finds promoting the cause of children ineffective:

When any condition is mentioned for children, whether it be poverty or delinquency, people automatically wonder, “where are the parents?” Are the parents of these children behaving responsibly? If they cannot earn a good living, or control their offspring’s behavior, why not?

It is true that Edelman (and also, for that matter, her old friend Hillary Rodham Clinton), in presenting herself as a champion of children, was being tactical: she founded the Children’s Defense Fund in the wake of the disastrous failure of an earlier project, the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, thus shifting to a cause that would seem to have more public appeal.

Skocpol proposes dropping “children” as a label for social welfare projects, and favors “working families,” a term that is broad and generates warm feelings (both words are positive ones, as opposed, say, to “war on poverty”). As a rubric, “working families” obviously leaves people out, such as the unemployed and the childless or unmarried, but for Skocpol it has the appeal of offering a way to bring together single mothers and less-well-off married couples in a political alliance. One of the most dramatic demographic changes of the late twentieth century, she reminds us, was the entry of married mothers into the labor force. Of those with children under six, about a fifth worked in 1960, while about three fifths were working in 1990. This change owed much to the growing feminist movement, but the falling relative earning power of the blue-collar husband was also important in increasing the number of working mothers.

Women’s situation, along with the loss of economic ground by the American working class, would seem to Skocpol to offer the opportunity of forming a large new group that could pressure the government toward more social welfare. An added advantage of the “working families” label, she believes, is that it would avoid the necessity of mounting a defense of the household headed by a woman. Skocpol is sympathetic to cultural conservatives who stress the virtues of work and the superiority of the two-parent family to the one-parent family. In fact, she clearly sees herself as sharing more of the values of the American mainstream than do most professionals concerned with family policy.

But what government program could both confer benefits on working families and become as big and as indestructible as Social Security? Here Skocpol is unfortunately not very specific—“This is not the place for arcane policy details,” she says:

The policy specifics are less important than the principle: look for ways to build cross-generational and cross-class alliances through shared, rather than fragmented, systems of social support for working families.

She does endorse certain small, incremental measures that are currently politically acceptable, including the use of the Social Security Trust Fund to support student loans, the creation of a national system to withhold child support payments from the paychecks of delinquent fathers, the expansion of Medicare eligibility to laid-off older workers who don’t have health insurance, and the imposition of higher taxes on luxury goods.

Countries more committed than ours to social democracy often have family allowance systems under which the central government sends support checks to every household, in some cases including even rich ones—the point is an all-inclusive program. Family allowances are an idea that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan endorsed many years ago, and one would think Skocpol would support it too. That she doesn’t do so here may be evidence that the bad experience of the Clinton health care plan has persuaded her that any ambitious new program would have little support in Congress. (It is also a sign of how much American politics has changed in a generation that, thirty years ago, when Moynihan was an adviser to Richard Nixon, he persuaded the President to propose a guaranteed annual income for all Americans making below a certain minimum—a program far bolder than anything Skocpol dares to propose today.) Instead, Skocpol believes that more modest new measures could be placed under the invulnerable protective shield of the Social Security system.

Skocpol writes here as a populist, but of a particular kind. She doesn’t attack the traditional targets, big corporations and the very rich, but narrower, closer-to-hand ones: the highly paid (to whom she refers as “very privileged and upwardly mobile yuppies” and “jet-setting professionals”) and policymakers (whom she refers to as “pundits, “policy intellectuals,” and, a word she always uses pejoratively, “liberals”).

The Missing Middle is a manifesto; it is short and concerned with broad themes, not specifics. Therefore it requires a bit of guesswork to figure out who exactly are the “liberals” Skocpol despises and who are the “progressives” she admires, since she doesn’t name them. Partly because I know her and her work, I think I can adduce the set of positions she means when she says “liberal”—with the caveat that no particular person ever entirely fits the construction. “Liberals” are those who are more tolerant than Skocpol on social issues such as abortion and single motherhood. They would like government programs to serve primarily the poorest of the poor. “Liberals” disapprove of federal deficits and the tendency of the costs of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare to grow rapidly and to confer benefits on a great many middle-class recipients. They are cool to programs aimed at income redistribution, that is, to programs aimed at getting government money into the pockets of the working class. I would guess that high on her list of “liberals” would be Senator Moynihan, because he has been a consistent advocate of social programs for the poor, of deficit reduction, and of tightening Social Security spending. But Moynihan is not, on the other hand, the kind of social-issue liberal Skocpol disapproves of, because he, like Skocpol, strongly prefers two-parent families to one-parent families.

Part of the reason for Skocpol’s animus against liberals may be that she considers them to be the most influential critics of government entitlement programs. In her book, however, she refuses to debate them on their own ground. For example, she dismisses the question of Social Security’s solvency with impatience:

Long-term projections are sub-ject to so many tricky manipulations that—no surprise!—they always turn out predicting just what the given propagandist wants to project.

But she produces no projections of her own to counter them.

To Skocpol, politics isn’t a matter of objectively determining the nation’s most pressing needs and then devising government programs to meet them. If it were, the resulting programs would fail, because they would lack a strong-enough constituency, and the interests of working people would be ill-served, because they have no means of presenting themselves as a problem that must be solved. (Again, the non-working poor are not part of her argument.) Better to conduct politics differently, she implies, using as the central test of any proposal whether it will attract enough political support, rather than whether it will perform well in what Skocpol derisively calls “cost-benefit calculations.”


Skocpol thinks that all political positions arise from calculations of interest, whether their advocates admit to it or not, and that the concept of disinterested good government should be regarded with immense suspicion—a belief that is hardly new. For someone to assert today, as John Judis does in The Paradox of American Democracy, that there actually is a noble American tradition of stewardship of the public interest that can be taken at face value is arresting. Judis has been associated for years with The New Republic, and an earlier book of his, Grand Illusion: Critics and Champions of the American Century (1992), had at its center one of the magazine’s founders, Herbert Croly (also the author of the Progressive Era manifesto The Promise of American Life). In his new book Judis argues for a revival of Croly’s view that a powerful federal government should tame the excess of unbridled capitalism.

In Judis’s retelling of American history, more than a century has passed since we abandoned the idea that we could live in an innocent world without government. The notion of “big government” as a late-twentieth-century development at odds with the American tradition is, he says, a distortion by business and the Republican Party. The truth is that at the end of the nineteenth century, as the United States developed a national industrial economy, and as the previously mighty political parties faded, business corporations and their lobbyists in Washington began to dominate the political system, and the public began to look to government to curb their power. Fortunately, Judis says, a major new element appeared to help counterbalance the power of business: “elite” organizations.

Judis traces the formation, the rise, and the fall from influence of this elite. He has constructed a highly detailed and unfamiliar history of public policy research organizations, such as the Institute of Governmental Research (now the Brookings Institution), the American Association for Labor Legislation, the National Civic Association, the Twentieth Century Fund (now the Century Fund, the underwriter of Skocpol’s book), the Russell Sage Foundation, the Committee for Economic Development, and the Ford Foundation, among others, and discusses the effect they have had on government policies like the Social Security Act, the Wagner Act, and the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration.

The difficulty with Judis’s schema, and it is considerable, is that his concept of an “elite” does not yield to precise definition. In Judis’s view, the qualities of an elite are public-spiritedness, intellectual honesty, and a commitment to rising above personal interest. In the past, he writes,

The elites and elite policy groups advocated the development of policy based on fact and knowledge. They nourished public trust in government by defending and explaining complex decisions that the ordinary voter did not have time to study. And they have carried forward a tradition of disinterested public service against the venality and corruption that interest groups have often encouraged in public life.

But there is no sure test of whether a person or an organization is a member of this elite. Judis’s definition would seem to be roughly similar to that of what people have been calling, since the late 1950s, “the Establishment,” but that term doesn’t have a precise definition either. If there is such a coherent group, within it there is both more internal disagreement about policy and more personal ambition than Judis allows for.

His account of the history of American elites begins during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—the Progressive Era, which came into being substantially because of the elite’s disapproval of the Gilded Age. Although Judis concentrates largely on research organizations, he also sees the hand of the elite in the creation of objective journalism and professional philanthropy, in faith in the truth and power of social science, in the Protestant Social Gospel, and in an internationalist foreign policy. One might say that any time a group of rich or influential people organizes in an effort to move the government in a more socially responsible direction, and presents itself as expert and nonideological, it seems to meet Judis’s defining test for an elite.

Although the elite is impossible to pin down, it is also impossible to present Judis’s argument without using his terminology. He says that every liberal period in the twentieth century has coincided with an elite influence on government. During the Theodore Roosevelt administration, pressure from the elite helped to create the early regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. In the Twenties the influence of the elite faded and pure business-lobbying groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce rose in its place, but during the New Deal the elite came back and helped to bring about legislation that created the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Social Security system, and stronger labor unions.

The early harbingers of the decline in the power of the elite, Judis tells us, were the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 and the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947—the former empowering business to challenge government’s regulatory authority, the latter enormously strengthening the hand of employers in their competition with labor—both of which effectively diminished the mediating role that the elite should play. But the elite’s power, according to Judis, didn’t fully break down for a couple of decades. During the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, foreign policy was controlled by patrician “wise men” and in domestic policy the Republicans accepted the major tenets of the New Deal—Judis reminds us that Eisenhower pushed through major increases in the minimum wage and Social Security. John F. Kennedy was the grandson of an ethnic political boss who had been elaborately socialized into the elite. In a speech Kennedy stated one part of the elite’s creed: “The fact of the matter is that most of the problems…that we now face, are technical problems, are administrative problems.” As late as the 1964 presidential election, elite influence was strong enough to generate overwhelming support in the business world for Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign.

Judis’s admiration for the presence of an elite in political life is conditional on its adhering to his kind of politics—government as a countervailing force to business. Therefore he sees the late Sixties and Seventies as having weakened the elite, because many elite organizations embraced liberal causes that he would consider secondary, such as affirmative action and improving conditions in the inner-city ghettos. He says, for example, that the appointment of Franklin Thomas as head of the Ford Foundation in 1979 meant that “business had won its decade-long struggle to emasculate the Ford Foundation.”

To Judis (perhaps more than to his readers) there is a razor-sharp distinction between elite organizations that seek to influence public policy and business organizations that function in similar ways. In the Seventies, while the former were fading, the latter were rising. The villain of Judis’s book is Irving Kristol, who, he thinks, was responsible more than anyone else for persuading business to adopt the methods of elite organizations, such as publishing serious journals and creating think tanks—but to promote, in the guise of public service, a pure lobbying agenda whose central goals are tax cuts and a reduction in the federal regulation of business. New conservative institutions in Washington like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation gained power, and so did old-fashioned lobbyists. The conservatives successfully purveyed the ahistorical idea that “big government” is antithetical to the American tradition.

It is amazing how dramatically American attitudes about government and business have changed in a generation. In one poll result Judis quotes, 76 percent of Americans in 1964 said they could “trust the government in Washington to do what is right,” while in 1992 only 29 percent did. The percentage of Americans who agreed with the statement “the best government is the government that governs least” went from 32 in 1974 to 59 in 1981. The percentage of college freshmen who said that being “very well-off financially” was one of their highest goals went from 41 in 1968 to 76 in 1987. Judis, who is particularly interested in the struggle between business lobbyists and elite organizations in Washington, implies that much of the national turn to the right can be attributed to the efforts of Washington lobbyists for business and of their Op-Ed and think-tank allies. Surely it isn’t that simple, and there was some element of public opinion moving in a more conservative direction on its own, without manipulation by business. Judis exaggerates the extent to which “K Street,” Washington’s rue des lobbyistes, runs the country.

It may be useful to regard Judis’s notion of the elite less as a way of explaining the course of American history and more as a description of the self-consciousness of some Washington liberals and of their political style. Liberal elite politics entails stating an overall commitment—no doubt sincerely felt—to the public good, which is defined as something apart from ideology or self-interest, and then pursuing specific goals privately, in the company of other experts. Judis’s history shows how, over the past hundred years, some people with these convictions have, indeed, often had an effect on federal policies—for just one of many possible examples, the role Paul Hoffman of the Committee on Economic Development played in the passage of the liberal Employment Act of 1946. But it is a big leap from there to the position Judis implies at the end, that a liberal resurgence now would require a newly empowered elite. The group is too diffuse and it lacks independent power, and anyway, there is no guarantee that it would take the positions Judis would like it to.

The different views of Theda Skocpol and John Judis form a hidden substratum in Democratic Party politics. In Skocpol’s view the Democrats should make a naked, more populist appeal to the interests of middle-class and lower-middle-class voters, mainly by promising them more government entitlements. In Judis’s view the Democrats should speak instead in the broader language of the public interest. Al Gore has obviously been torn between these two approaches. Before the convention, he ran as a member of Judis’s elite: that is, as a sober, responsible, nonideological figure who could be counted upon to make the country generally strong and prosperous, rather than as the champion of any particular group. At the convention and after, he dramatically moved closer to Skocpol’s view, promising to fight for “the people” against “the powerful” and to deliver government favors, from preschool to prescription drugs, to the party’s constituents.

Along with this shift came an immediate increase—since evaporated—in Gore’s standing in the polls. That would seem to indicate that Skocpol’s approach is more popular than Judis’s. But if Gore is able to win as a middle-class populist, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he will find it easy to govern as one. With his Washington background and his history of involvement in nonpopulist causes like arms control and environmentalism (which factory workers often perceive as a threat to jobs), Gore has probably believed himself to be the kind of expert that Judis so admires in his book.

Within the Clinton administration, none of Gore’s main activities—reshaping the administration of government, lobbying for intervention in the Balkans, supporting free trade and a balanced budget, managing telecommunications deregulation, participating in a bilateral commission with Russia, starting an inner-city ghetto development program—took him near pushing for the kind of benefit programs for the middle class that he has been calling for during the campaign. As a populist president, he would not only have to change his rhetoric. He would also have to change many of the positions he has taken during his long career.

October 18, 2000

  1. 1

    Greenberg was coeditor with Theda Skocpol of the essay collection The New Majority: Toward a Popular Progressive Politics (Yale University Press, 1997) and is Gore’s chief pollster.

  2. 2

    Harvard University Press, 1992.

  3. 3

    These pensions took about 45 percent of the federal government’s receipts in 1900.

  4. 4

    Norton, 1996.

  5. 5

    See his recent book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon and Schuster, 2000), reviewed by Alan Ryan in The New York Review, August 10, 2000.

  6. 6

    See Peterson’s books Will America Grow Up Before It Grows Old? (Random House, 1996) and Gray Dawn (Times Books, 1999), among others.