Conservative, Liberal, Potayto, Potahto.
Willis Webb
What does any political designation mean anymore? Conservative. Liberal. Democrat. Republican.

There are those that say conservatives believe in smaller government while liberal means big government. It seems the definition depends on who’s giving it and what their motivation is.

Potayto. Potahto.

Ronald Reagan, who most would label a conservative Republican, professed to believe in less government and that government should not meddle in our lives.

Texas humorist-writer John Henry Faulk was labeled a liberal by many, yet he said he preferred trying to solve people’s problems with a block party.

Perhaps that’s not a fair comparison since Faulk was not in politics. However, Reagan and Tip O’Neill, then Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives (and labeled by most as a liberal), often sat down together at the end of the day and had a drink as they talked about how to solve the nation’s problems.

When Republican George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he had the good sense to get on very amicable terms with Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.

Bush recognized that the true power for getting things done in this state was in the lieutenant governor’s office. Bullock’s whole guiding principle was, “If it’s good for Texas, let’s do it.” Bullock took the fledgling governor under his wing and taught him how to get things done.

Bush used that “bi-partisan experience” to his benefit in his first campaign for president. What each of these politicos did was play the “populist” card.

Populist is a term we hear thrown around these days by people of every political stripe.

Those who support the Tea Party rallies claim it’s a “populist thing” against government spending and high taxes.

People who want to punish Wall Street and the big banks were doing the “populist thing” against the big money interests, “the privileged elite.”

Conservatives refer to “the elitist, metropolitan liberals.” Liberals refer to “the big money interest conservatives.” And, on and on.

Tomayto. Tomahto.

One definition of a populist: A supporter of the rights and power of the people.

Populism is defined as a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.

Perhaps a more revealing, accurate definition of populism as it is used today: The principles and doctrines of any political party asserting that it represents the rank and file of the people and a political strategy based on a calculated appeal to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people.

Recently I wrote of the middle class abandoning political discourse to the extremes, right and left, and called for taking back our government and for making serious changes in campaign finance so huge contributions couldn’t “buy” an elected official. A friend of mine laughed at how simplistic I made that sound.

There is adequate reason for his cynicism. Truthfully, it isn’t a simplistic task.

First of all, candidates for federal office— the House of Representatives and the Senate—are chosen by the national Congressional Campaign Committees and the Senate Campaign Committees of each party.

Huge contributions in the millions and millions of dollars are made to these two groups and they pick who gets the money. And, this runs true on campaigns for state office as well, just with smaller numbers.

Any candidate who thinks he or she can run a true grass roots campaign and beat such wellheeled organizations is figuring to surmount a Mount Everest sized problem.

Plus, our system is such that it favors the current two dominant political parties—Democrat and Republican—because rules and regulations for getting on a ballot don’t favor another party. It would take millions of dollars for a state regional race and significantly more for a statewide race such as for U.S. Senator.

However, an organized and dedicated campaign to change the complexion of our governing bodies is possible.

It would take a gargantuan effort in the number of people who would need to be involved and a tremendous campaign chest, not to mention brainpower, to wage a winning battle.

I’m just enough of idealist to think it can be done. And, that it’s necessary.

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2010-10-28 digital edition

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