Democrats Pushing "Populism" (not Liberalism?)

Robin Toner skillfully avoids the dreaded L-word.

As is typical for Times reporters, Robin Toner did an admirable job avoiding the L-word in Monday's lead story, "A New Populism Spurs Democrats On The Economy - Appeal To Middle Class."

Populism, not liberalism?

Toner managed to mention that Republicans believe in "conservative policies of tax cutting, less regulation and more trade," but never used the word "liberal" to describe big-government proposals by Democrats, using the more benign, centrist-sounding "populist."

"On Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy.

"Clearly influenced by some of their most successful candidates in last year's Congressional elections, Democrats are talking more and more about the anemic growth in American wages and the negative effects of trade and a globalized economy on American jobs and communities. They deplore what they call a growing gap between the middle class, which is struggling to adjust to a changing job market, and the affluent elites who have prospered in the new economy. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, calls it 'trickle-down economics without the trickle.'

"Populism is hardly new in the Democratic Party. Al Gore vowed to fight for 'the people versus the powerful' in his presidential campaign seven years ago, and Republicans have long accused the Democrats of practicing 'class warfare.'

"But the latest populist resurgence is deeply rooted in a view that current economic conditions are difficult and deteriorating for many people, analysts say, and it is now framing debates over tax policy, education, trade, energy and health care. Last week, Senate Democrats held hearings on proposals to raise taxes on some of the highest fliers on Wall Street, the people at the top of private equity and hedge fund firms."

Here's one of the "populist" points that is indistinguishable from big-government liberalism: "Democrats have also been pushing for legislation that would allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare with the pharmaceutical industry, a favorite target of the economic populists."

The word "liberal" is never uttered, though Toner did observe that "It is not unusual for candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination to move left in the primary season; Mr. Clinton himself touched on some of these populist themes in his 1992 campaign."

Toner concluded that even so-called Democratic centrists are feeling the heat from the "populists".

"Even Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who is viewed as far too much of an establishment, free-trade Clintonian by many populists, says the party must respond. 'The party that deals with globalization and economic security will win,' Mr. Emanuel said."

Reporter Donald Lambro of the Washington Times had a different take. Analyzing the relatively centrist philosophies of the Democratic candidate's economic advisers : "...despite the mostly liberal economic positions these contenders have taken in the course of their careers, urging higher taxes and more restrictive trade policies, some of their advisers are more market-oriented centrists, pro-trade and deficit hawks. One of them is pushing personal Social Security retirement accounts that invest in the stock market, a conservative idea backed by the Bush administration."

Also on Monday, reporter Leslie Wayne was in New Orleans with Democratic candidate John Edwards and also avoided the word "liberal" whiletalking upEdwards' Southern "poverty tour." Edwards is merely "staking a more populist stance than his opponents."