My grandfather, John Conner, Professor of Government at Texas A&i University (now part of Texas A&M) was proud to call himself a populist. For him, it meant standing up for the little guy, for supporting workers and farmers, rather than the big business elite. Above all, populism was about equality for ordinary citizens under the law. He considered the Warren Court’s one man – one vote decision in the early sixties to be the most important of his lifetime.
Interestingly, he had little to say about Brown vs Board of Education, which most people would consider to be the most important. I’m afraid he combined a lack of prejudice that was remarkable who was born in rural West Texas in the early 1880’s, with an apparent lack of interest in Civil Rights issues.
He wasn’t opposed to Civil Rights; it was just that populism was the ideology that had formed hum, and he saw everything from that perspective. Looking back, I wish that he had been more sensitive to racial injustice, just as I wish his son, my father, had been more sympathetic to the Vietnam protestors. But both of them were essentially populists, and that seems to me a very good thing to be.
Populism needs a revival in this country. We are slouching towards oligarchy, and we are not doing nearly enough about it. The Reagan era is over; maybe it’s time for Elizabeth Warren.