Just about everybody in politics is claiming to be a “populist” these days–leftwinger Elizabeth Warren, rightwinger Ted Cruz, establishment icon Hillary Clinton, the Christian right’s Mike Huckabee, Occupy Wallstreeters, Tea Partiers, and on and on.
Rutgers history professor David Greenberg points out that the term once had a very specific meaning, relating to the farmer/labor coalition against the railroads and bankers in the late 19th century, as led by William Jennings Bryan. The ideology combined a type of socialist economics (nationalize the railroads!) with respect for “ordinary” Americans (a man of the people! champion of the common man!). Today liberals are seizing upon the economic part (while comprising the cultural elite that the old populists scorned), while conservatives are seizing upon the ordinary American part (a demographic that today tends not to like socialism).
But this reminds us that the left owes a big debt to William Jennings Bryan, today often mocked for his creationism at the Scopes Monkey Trial. And that there was a time when evangelical Christians were often leftists. [Read more…]