The Dangerous Rise of American Right-Wing Populism

Thirty-one percent of the United States population blames Bush for this crisis.

President Barack Obama became president amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of 1929. He took, with success, measures to avoid a global financial collapse. However, he stopped implementing, as we discussed in previous articles, policy measures that Americans would view as just and necessary, granting two or three years so he could, at least, straighten out the U.S. economy, which had hit bottom. The strong measures that would solidify his initial execution would be these:

1. Create a commission with prestigious people. This commission will publicly identify the causes of the crisis and point out those responsible for it, mainly Republicans, bankers and companies with a high risks rating. By not taking these measures, it was clear that the blame for the crisis would be shifted from the real culprits to the president.

2. Take advantage of the weakness of the bankers to establish financial regulations and renegotiate the abusive and absurd terms of the bank bailout.

3. Focus entirely on the economy, instead of emphasizing health care reform, which can be postponed.

4. He should use the resources of the stimulus plan ($850 billion) exclusively to improve the situation of the average American.

As a result of the economic downturn, the effects of the crisis and the extravagant aid to the bankers, average American citizens became incensed with a sense of righteous indignation. This provoked a dangerous political vacuum that has already manifested itself with the emergence of the right-wing populist Tea Party movement, named after the Boston Tea Party of 1773 in which Americans threw shipments of tea into Boston Harbor to protest a tax increase by the British Empire. This action marked the beginning of American independence.

The current Tea Party movement possesses the following characteristics:

It has a fully decentralized and amorphous structure. It has no headquarters or single political platform. It consists of hundreds of autonomous movements, although some have common positions.

A conservative philosophy, with a significant minority on the extreme right.

It rejects the status quo and the government elite.

It has a clear intention to reduce the size of the government.

It promotes a rejection of public debt growth although it does not want to raise taxes or to let social spending go down.

It profoundly questions foreign aid and the process of globalization. Its members believe that one and both have produced great economic and social damage in the U.S.

It preaches strong anti-immigration indignation with great racial overtones. Many believe that Obama is a Muslim in disguise, others that he is an African with spiritualistic tendencies. All think that he wants to impose socialism in the country.

According to the Gallup, ABC, The New York Times and Pew surveys (all from February), the land is fertile for this movement. Below are some of the results, as an example:

Seventy-eight percent of Americans believe that the government (Executive and Congress) are working only for the economic groups.

Seventy-one percent disapprove of Congress.

Fifty-seven percent want to reduce the size of the government.

From June, 2009, to February, 2010, the approval ratings for Democrats versus Republicans fell from +17 percent to +2 percent.

Although there are only eight months left before the congressional elections, this position could be improved for the Democrats, because even though Obama’s approval rating has descended from 63 percent to 49 percent in the last six months, 31 percent of Americans still blame Bush for the crisis, 23 percent blame the bankers, 13 percent Congress and only 8 percent Obama.

In our opinion, what should President Obama do?

Concentrate completely on the economy and the creation of jobs.

Confront the Republicans for being the cause of the crisis and their total obstructionism.

Ask the Senate to modify the rules that govern Congress, specifically the filibuster, which ends up requiring 60 percent of the senators to discuss and pass a law. So far this procedure has only been used in less than 20 percent of bills brought to the floor, usually for the discussion of complex and important laws (example: the Civil Rights Act in 1968). Currently, Republicans are using this virtually all the time, completely paralyzing any Senate action.

This situation becomes much more important in light of two events that occurred within less than four months ago on U.S. soil: the loss of the Senate race in Massachusetts, the most Democratic state in the United States, and the loss of the gubernatorial race in New Jersey, the third most Democratic state.

The choice is clear, there are two paths:

1. President Obama must act decisively, with courage, using a specific address to focus on the economy and job creation, or

2. Continue as he is presently, in which case we will see right-wing populism with serious political and economic consequences that prevents the Senate from passing laws that address the current economic problems.

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