Over a century ago, real populists – not the deluded drones of the Tea Party – showed how politics can really work. And did. We have populists to thank for their major contributions to a lot of things we take for granted: the secret ballot, popular election of US senators, women’s suffrage, a graduated income tax, direct primaries and agricultural cooperatives to name a few.
They did it with 10,000 secular missionaries spreading the word around the county, with music and even with ventriloquists. They understood that for politics to work it had to be an interesting and enjoyable part of our lives, not another burden to share.
Which is why when I walked in late to the darkened hall off the main space of the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick, Maine, I thought I was in a time warp, suddenly catapulted back more than a hundred years to a populist rally.
But soon I realized it was just what I had come for: a talk by David Cobb of Move to Amend about the Supreme Court’s despicable ruling granting personhood to corporations and what we should do about it.
Cobb hails from a shrimping village in Texas and now lives in California. He was once the Green Party’s candidate for president. But he still carries the accent of his youth and speaks in a manner half lawyer, half logician and half (as he himself admits) Elmer Gantry. You end up with a loaf and a half and more.
It was a reminder – both pleasant and sorrowful – of why progressives don’t do better these days. They have let the heart and soul go out of politics. While I occasionally wondered if Cobb’s approach wasn’t a little too hearty for a bunch of laconic Mainers, it lifted my spirits not only for his cause but for all the other matters of virtue currently wallowing in everything from apathy to despair.
It isn’t that Cobb is a role model. There’s only one of him. But what we need is thousands of something elses, each reintroducing the notion of passion, honest argument and appealing energy in their own way to the causes of our time.