Thursday, March 5, 2015

Demagoguery: Its Uses and Abuses

So if I am starting to favor demagogues, maybe we should give some thought to what I mean by that term.

One possible definition is that a demagogue is one who refuses all concessions, regardless of whether that is a realistic position.  By that definition, I oppose demagogues.  Another is one who panders to the least common denominator.  But I am not even sure what that phrase is supposed to mean. Another definition is one who appeals to people's basest instincts.  I oppose that.  But another definition of a demagogue might be one who gets the people all riled up.  Now that depends. Because some things are worth getting riled up about.

Or let us put it differently.  Demagogue is a Greek word anyhow.  If you want a good English word for demagogue, let me suggest -- rabble rouser.  I realize that the term is usually used as a pejorative, meaning one who incites people's worst instincts.  But then again, sometimes the rabble need rousing. Appealing to anger and fear is usually bad -- but sometimes anger and fear are fully justified.

For instance, as I have said before, if Europe's response to Greece is no concessions, nothing but an endless grind, and that they are determined to make an example of the country to warn other debtors not to ask for relief, then I would say that is something worth getting angry about, and something worth rousing some rabble.

And in the U.S., since Republicans have made their top mission since 2010 to repeal Obamacare, Democrats in the run-up to the 2016 election ought to make their coordinated message asking Republicans if they intend to strip millions of their health insurance.  It is a perfectly legitimate question, after all.  It in no way misrepresents Republicans' actual position.  It plays to fear, but an entirely reasonable fear.  It places Republicans in an impossible position.  They can say yes an offend the Tea Party base.  They can say no and offend everyone else.  Or (most likely) they can be as incoherent as possible and look untrustworthy.  And to the extent that it rouses rabble, the rabble need rousing.

The question is, will Democrats have the guts to do it.

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