Toward a Populist Obama

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Michael Eric Dyson issues the call. I thought about this some reading this John Judis piece yesterday. I think I'm deeply uncomfortable with any sort of populism. No matter the target--bankers or the poor--it seems to require its leaders to say, "There's nothing wrong with you America." 


In saying that I don't mean to ignore the difference in power, but to contest the notion of powerlessness as some sort of moral cleaning agent, and finally to contest the notion of powerlessness itself. There must be some way to acknowledge, all at once, the outer crookedness of deceptive lending, and then the inner crookedness of trying to get something for nothing.

I was trying to get at some of this in the Jon Stewart thread, but the notion that Americans are pure, and what's really wrong with this country, has everything to do with aliens--the media, the Muslim, the poor, the illegal, the rich, the elites--but nothing to do with the natives strikes me as comfort food.

Moreover, it stands in direct opposition to much of the patriotic rhetoric we hear. If America is so mighty, if its people are so dynamic and great, how can it be that they are so often and so easily deluded? Perhaps repeatedly telling voters "You're a good person. It's not your fault." is essential in politics. I don't know. I voted for Obama precisely because I thought he would resist the call to Willie Lynch the people he's supposed to be serving.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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