Conservative Populism: Tucker Carlson vs. David French

 

Tucker Carlson has recently done an exposition on populism that has gone viral. It is biting and rangy, covering a bunch of topics related to populism but from a conservative perspective. This has drawn fire from some on the Right that view populism as an evil thing that good folks on the Right should avoid. David French has a response in National Review where he blasts Carlson and populism in general.

What is populism and does it fit with conservative values? I think it does when taken in good measure. I think Carlson and French are both too extreme.

In Tucker’s monologue, he does make a few assertions that are not evident (e.g., women won’t marry men that make less money than themselves), but, in general, he addresses a lot of valid points where some groups of Americans have struggled over the last generation. He correctly notes the global rise in populism from Trump in the US, to Brexit, to Poland, to Brazil. He also notes that elitist thought-leaders promote some conservative values (free markets) over other conservative values (rule-of-law, strong families). He complains about Libertarian laissez-faire attitudes. However, the best example of Tucker’s mindset is from an interview he did with Ben Shapiro where he said he would outlaw robots to save jobs. This is the exact thinking of the Luddites who famously smashed looms to prevent productivity improvements that would them some jobs.

On the other extreme is David French. He is so set on destroying the idea of populism, that after complementing Carlson, he concocts a series of fallacious arguments to blast Carlson and populism. Here is one example from French:

(By the way, it’s strange to hear populists of either party talk — as Tucker does — of elites thinking of market capitalism as a “religion.” Both parties in this nation have embraced a truly massive social safety net. Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare dwarf other categories of federal spending. Total federal outlays — not counting state and local expenditures — represent roughly 20 percent of gross domestic product.)

This is a false dichotomy whereby it is impossible to have both a social safety net and a misdirected industrial policy that causes undue harm to certain groups of Americans. It also falsely equates the value of a meaningful job with a handout, which no true conservative should do. When people argue against their own proclaimed principles it means that they have higher priorities, like maintaining the elitist purity of their circle and cleansing it of the working-class taint of populism. French’s attitude is one of “let them eat cake.”

Populism is simply government policy/culture that is beneficial to the common citizen. As Lincoln said, “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Conservatism is the preference for principles and systems that are time-tested to promote prosperous ordered liberty. What does conservative populism look like?

  • Societal leaders publicly promoting the formula for prosperity: learn a trade, marry a life-mate, then have kids. As Adam Carolla wisely said, “[Successful people] should preach what the practice.” Instead, we have Hollywood and politicians saying “let your freak flag fly” and “don’t judge.” But the time-tested principle is to judge and promote education and family formation.
  • Politicians should fight violations of law relating to international markets that affect American workers. Free trade has benefits in a Ricardo-way, but it also has costs. If another nation is breaking the law (moral code) of abusing workers/environment or massive theft of intellectual property, then the trade must be stopped. If free trade causes undue destruction of human capital by product dumping, then trade should be curtailed. Rule-of-law and preservation of capital are conservative principles.
  • Politicians should avoid war for profiteering, which benefits the Beltway crowd at the expense of life and treasure of the common citizen. The Bush 43/Obama 44 wars have cost trillions in debt and thousands of lives and have provided no improvement to urban Detroit or rural Kentucky. Even accepting the special role of US hegemony, the time-tested principle is to minimize involvement in wars. Madison warned of the dangers of a standing army.

There are many other issues where conservative populism can be applied (immigration, global warming, healthcare, criminal justice,…). The point is that conservative principles are not only compatible with populism, but they demand a certain measure of it. The difference between medicine and poison is the dosage.

Published in Economics
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There are 156 comments.

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  1. GeneKillian Coolidge

    This is a very interesting post and, in my opinion anyway, a persuasive argument. In the interest of missing the main point, though, I’d like to drop a footnote about Poland. I think many people out there who have criticized Poland for becoming “far right,” “populist” (in the negative sense used by leftists), and “anti-immigrant” are completely tone-deaf to Poland’s history. This is a country that has contributed much to science, culture, and the West’s victory in WW2, but unfortunately has been sold out several times by so-called “Allies” and ceased to exist. So the idea that Poles should blindly take orders from a German Chancellor (talk about tone-deaf!) or bureaucrats in Brussels is delusional. They want to remain free, Polish, and Catholic. They’ve earned that right in blood many times over. May Poland be so, forever.

    • #1
    • January 5, 2019, at 9:34 AM PDT
    • 29 likes
  2. David Foster Member

    Could you point me to where Tucker C said robots should be outlawed to save jobs?…can’t find it.

    In any case, this argument (which has been made by many) leaves the question of **what, exactly, is a robot?** I would argue that a numerically-controlled or CNC machine tool is a robot, as is an automatic elevator…even though they don’t look like something out of a science fiction movie. Indeed, most of those panic-ing about “robots and AI will take all the jobs!” appear to not know very much about the history of technology and specifically automation.

    I attempted to provide some much-needed perspective at my post series Attack of the Job-Killing Robots. Three posts, starts at the link

     

    • #2
    • January 5, 2019, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Neil Hansen (Klaatu) Inactive

    I would argue with your definition of populism. Populism is not necessarily policies which are beneficial to the common people but rather an attempt to placate or bolster certain groups of people (the masses or the common man) often at the expense of others (the elite). It is unmoored from any principles other than giving the people what they want, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver and I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”

    I also think you are misstating French’s argument. His is on rebutting Carlson’s focus on government as a means to improve people’s lives rather than individual decision making.

    • #3
    • January 5, 2019, at 10:03 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. Hoyacon Member

    There are some hyperbolic comments in Carlson’s speech, but not that many. His main message–that we are neglecting a significant portion of our population and disadvantaging the country in doing so–seems spot on to me. Does recognizing this make one a “populist”? I don’t think so.

    • #4
    • January 5, 2019, at 10:37 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  5. Mark Camp Member

    Don,

    Your defense of populism may be right or wrong. I have no comment on it.

    But as someone who has studied Lincoln and his ideas, I have to object strongly to your interpretation of his quote about government of the people.

    That reading is diametrically opposed to Lincoln’s basic beliefs and the meaning of those words.

    Lincoln was reaffirming the principles of the American Revolution–equal liberty and justice for all, regardless of class– not rejecting them as you have implied. When he referred to “the people”, he meant exactly the same thing as the Founders did: all the people, as individuals who were made equal by their creator.

    You have turned that meaning on its head by suggesting that “the people” were, to Lincoln, a particular social class of people, with self-proclaimed class rights which override the individual rights of Americans of other so-called “classes”.

    • #5
    • January 5, 2019, at 10:58 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Flicker Inactive

    There’s a lot to say. First, it is French who labels the cantankerously poorly-defined word “populism” upon Tucker’s views. Does what Carlson said fall into the category of “populism”? It is an overused pejorative to begin with, and I argue a largely, usually, meaningless word.

    Second, French is a good man I’m sure, but everything he writes is awfully confused. Here he mistakes alms giving for caring. And separates spirituality from one’s government or from one’s belly, and these distinctions are as easily wrong as not.

    French introduces the phrases “victim-politics populism”, “changes into an angry tale of what are they doing for you?”, “responsibilities are reciprocal”, “the primary responsibility for creating a life of virtue and purpose rests with families and individuals.”

    I stopped reading French here.

    • #6
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:01 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  7. Flicker Inactive

    I’ll go along with Carlson. I have always said that when women entered the workforce in grand numbers, it was wonderful at first, but soon enough the entire economy of the country contracted to allow only two-parent working families. And from there, latchkey kids, and from that mandatory day car, in which toddlers are raised by women who don’t love them and will never care for them as their mothers would. And from there enslavement to an economic lifestyle from which none of these nice people, parents, mothers, fathers, children, will ever break free.

    And I’ve always decried the argument, stated with religious fervor, that the executive’s chiefest and only obligation, his only duty, is the financial return to his stockholders. This is morally vile, and allows, oh say, American banks to lend to one’s enemies in time of war, and American arms dealers to sell products and to enemy. If it can be maneuvered legally, what’s the harm? It’s been done I’m told and it is repulsive.

    • #7
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:09 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  8. Neil Hansen (Klaatu) Inactive

    Flicker (View Comment):
    French introduces the phrases “victim-politics populism”, “changes into an angry tale of what are they doing for you?”, “responsibilities are reciprocal”, “the primary responsibility for creating a life of virtue and purpose rests with families and individuals.”

    An “us vs them” victimization has been part of every populist movement, left and right. It is inherent in populism.

    Do you question French’s statement regarding where the primary responsibility for a virtuous life lies?

    • #8
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Hoyacon Member

    Flicker (View Comment):

    And I’ve always decried the argument, stated with religious fervor, that the executive’s chiefest and only obligation, his only duty, is the financial return to his stockholders. This is morally vile, and allows, oh say, American banks to lend to one’s enemies in time of war, and American arms dealers to sell products and to enemy. If it can be maneuvered legally, what’s the harm? It’s been done I’m told and it is repulsive.

    Thus far we appear to be in about 7/8’s agreement, but here’s the other eighth. As stated, your first sentence is overly broad. Those running a public corporation have a legal, fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder return, and it’s true that this duty is not always consistent with what’s “best” for the workforce. However, it’s not “vile,” nor does it lead directly to the extremes of “capitalism.”

    • #9
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Flicker Inactive

    David Foster (View Comment):
    I would argue that a numerically-controlled or CNC machine tool is a robot

    I’m not sure of the name of the tool, but my brother once looked at the intricately carved arm of a chair, ending with a lion’s head, and muttered under his breath something about, I think, a rotilator, or a routilator. I asked him what he meant and he said the work was obviously carved by machine; a “rotilator” (or whatever he called it) being a mechanichal woodworking tool to carve complex designs by the movement of a bit.

    It wasn’t an electronically-controlled robot as far as I knew, but perhaps a mechanical 3D copying device, like making a 3D car key from an existing car key. Would you happen to know what this is?

    • #10
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:20 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. EJHill Podcaster

    Flicker: French introduces the phrases “victim-politics populism”, “changes into an angry tale of what are they doing for you?”

    He’s got it exactly backwards. They’re not demanding the government do something for them, they’re angry because the government was actively working against them. We can all sit in a circle and chant “Government shouldn’t chose winners and losers,” but that’s not going to stop them from doing it.

    • #11
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:22 AM PDT
    • 17 likes
  12. Vectorman Thatcher

    GeneKillian (View Comment):
    I think many people out there who have criticized Poland for becoming “far right,” “populist” (in the negative sense used by leftists), and “anti-immigrant” are completely tone-deaf to Poland’s history. This is a country that has contributed much to science, culture, and the West’s victory in WW2, but unfortunately has been sold out several times by so-called “Allies” and ceased to exist. So the idea that Poles should blindly take orders from a German Chancellor (talk about tone-deaf!) or bureaucrats in Brussels is delusional. They want to remain free, Polish, and Catholic. They’ve earned that right in blood many times over. May Poland be so, forever.

     

    • #12
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:24 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  13. Flicker Inactive

    Neil Hansen (Klaatu) (View Comment):

    An “us vs them” victimization has been part of every populist movement, left and right. It is inherent in populism.

    Do you question French’s statement regarding where the primary responsibility for a virtuous life lies?

    Us vs them victimization has gone on as long as I’ve been alive between the democrat and republican parties.

    And no, I question French’s even bringing up the distinction. When the argument is that spiritual or psychological well-being and physical well-being rely on each other, it is dismissive to simply argue blankly that they’re not, and then to advance the argument from there — all subsequent points are tainted by the falsity of the first.

    He does this uniformly in his writings from what I’ve seen. It is a spiritual obligation to both feed the hungry and to seek justice. French always divides the two, the spiritual from the physical, to make a twisted and erroneous argument as he does here.

    • #13
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:27 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  14. Vectorman Thatcher

    DonG: He correctly notes the global rise in populism from Trump in the US, to Brexit, to Poland, to Brazil. He also notes that elitist thought-leaders promote some conservative values (free markets) over other conservative values (rule-of-law, strong families). He complains about Libertarian laissez-faire attitudes.

    A long video that explains why Trump, Brexit, Poland, and Brazil are naturally rebelling from the present “New World Order,” and the answer is Nationalism:

    • #14
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:28 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. Flicker Inactive

    Hoyacon (View Comment):
    However, it’s not “vile,” nor does it lead directly to the extremes of “capitalism.”

    Sorry. And thanks.

    I meant to convey that there is a very, very destructive nature to the “corporate gain first” view, and ultimately (ironically, as Tucker says, come to think of it) it is inhuman; it in itself places the corporation’s good above the good of humans. It needn’t but, in itself, it does. And who can resist? To that extent, yes, I’ll call it vile.

    [Edited: But, then again, yes, perhaps I should have said, “unseemly.”]

    [Edit #2: Actually, I used vile as a throw-away word. I could have more clearly said, “hurts my feelings”. Give me time, I’ll get it right.]

    • #15
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:39 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. OldPhil Coolidge

    I’m still trying to digest and come to a conclusion on all of Carlson’s, French’s, Ben Shapiro’s, and Kyle Smith’s opinions on these issues. It’ll take me a while.

    • #16
    • January 5, 2019, at 11:54 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Neil Hansen (Klaatu) Inactive

    Flicker (View Comment):
    And no, I question French’s even bringing up the distinction. When the argument is that spiritual or psychological well-being and physical well-being rely on each other, it is dismissive to simply argue blankly that they’re not, and the to advance the argument from there — all subsequent points are tainted by the falsity of the first.

    He does not argue that at all. He argues they are closely related but both are much more a function of personal decisions than government policy. See his discussion of affluence and marriage.

    • #17
    • January 5, 2019, at 12:24 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. Neil Hansen (Klaatu) Inactive

    EJHill (View Comment):
    He’s got it exactly backwards. They’re not demanding the government do something for them, they’re angry because the government was actively working against them. We can all sit in a circle and chant “Government shouldn’t chose winners and losers,” but that’s not going to stop them from doing it.

    Government allowing individual business transactions to occur without interference (free trade) is not it actively working at all.

    • #18
    • January 5, 2019, at 12:32 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Jim McConnell Member

    Flicker (View Comment):
    Flicker  

    David Foster (View Comment):
    I would argue that a numerically-controlled or CNC machine tool is a robot

    I’m not sure of the name of the tool, but my brother once looked at the intricately carved arm of a chair, ending with a lion’s head, and muttered under his breath something about, I think, a rotilator, or a routilator. I asked him what he meant and he said the work was obviously carved by machine; a “rotilator” (or whatever he called it) being a mechanichal woodworking tool to carve complex designs by the movement of a bit.

    It wasn’t an electronically-controlled robot as far as I knew, but perhaps a mechanical 3D copying device, like making a 3D car key from an existing car key. Would you happen to know what this is?

    It’s a form of pantograph, and is a strictly mechanical device.

    • #19
    • January 5, 2019, at 12:34 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. David Foster Member

    Flicker (View Comment):

    I’m not sure of the name of the tool, but my brother once looked at the intricately carved arm of a chair, ending with a lion’s head, and muttered under his breath something about, I think, a rotilator, or a routilator. I asked him what he meant and he said the work was obviously carved by machine; a “rotilator” (or whatever he called it) being a mechanichal woodworking tool to carve complex designs by the movement of a bit.

    It wasn’t an electronically-controlled robot as far as I knew, but perhaps a mechanical 3D copying device, like making a 3D car key from an existing car key. Would you happen to know what this is?

    Thomas Blanchard introduced his Copying Lathe circa 1822…it would use a master shape as a model for a new item being made. Originally applied to making musket stocks, the device and its descendants were also applied to carving lasts for shoemakers and even busts ofAmerican presidents:

    https://todayinsci.com/B/Blanchard_Thomas/BlanchardThomas-LeadingAmInv.htm

    Sounds like the chair-carving was done by a similar device.

     

    • #20
    • January 5, 2019, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. David Foster Member

    Neil Hansen (Klaatu) (View Comment):
    Government allowing individual business transactions to occur without interference (free trade) is not it actively working at all.

    What if government #1 doesn’t interfere in the transaction, but government #2 DOES interfere?

    Suppose the Confederate States had gained their independence and even grabbed some additional formerly-American territory. So that a great amount of agricultural production (not just cotton & rice) was done by slave labor, and textile and other manufacturing in the South was also increasingly done by slaves.

    What would the long-term consequences for American prosperity and productivity had been if the Union states had allowed all slave-labor-produced items into the country without tariffs or other restrictions?

     

    • #21
    • January 5, 2019, at 12:50 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  22. Franco Member

    It occurred to me that if you ask the proverbial “man in the street” what his view of populism is, he’d say he’s for it.

    It’s hard to find an “elite in the street”, but you don’t have to. We already know he’s against it by reading the newspapers. Funny how that is.

    Seriously, the denigration, the re-definitions, the contemptuous references to ‘populism’ is the quickest way to self-define as an elitist.

    It doesn’t work the other way however. People who are populists don’t hate ‘elites’, they only hate the elites who hate/fear them.

    I honestly don’t understand why a politician who appeals to the people’s desires – in a Democracy – is doing something bad. 

    It’s as if these elites want politicians to pretend to appeal to people’s desires but then once elected make decisions that are actually, you know, smart.

    Someone explain to me how one could conclude otherwise?

    • #22
    • January 5, 2019, at 12:52 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  23. Randy Webster Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Flicker: French introduces the phrases “victim-politics populism”, “changes into an angry tale of what are they doing for you?”

    He’s got it exactly backwards. They’re not demanding the government do something for them, they’re angry because the government was actively working against them. We can all sit in a circle and chant “Government shouldn’t chose winners and losers,” but that’s not going to stop them from doing it.

    That’s what I took to be the Tea Party’s position.

    • #23
    • January 5, 2019, at 1:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. Flicker Inactive

    Neil Hansen (Klaatu) (View Comment):
    He does not argue that at all. He argues they are closely related but both are much more a function of personal decisions than government policy. See his discussion of affluence and marriage.

    Sure he does. But regarding affluence and marriage, it is French who abuses the word. Carlson uses it to make a point about wealthy people being able to afford to marry (which is true). And frankly, marriage and child-bearing should be put off until you have the “disposable” income to feed clothe and raise a child. That in itself can be included in “affluence”. But French uses the word only as a means of limiting the argument to the richest of the “affluent”. And then he (French) tears down Carlson’s argument based on his own (French’s) connotations in using the word. This is unfair.

    In other words, French changes the use and meaning of the word “affluence” out of the context in which it was used, and then critiques Carlson’s use of the word in this out-of-context sense, as if Carlson used it in French’s meaning.

    And it nullifies all further points made on the argument.

    • #24
    • January 5, 2019, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Flicker Inactive

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    It’s a form of pantograph, and is a strictly mechanical device.

    Thanks! I’ve been wondering that for years.

    • #25
    • January 5, 2019, at 1:09 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Flicker Inactive

    David Foster (View Comment):
    Sounds like the chair-carving was done by a similar device.

    Thanks! And thanks for the link.

    • #26
    • January 5, 2019, at 1:11 PM PDT
    • Like
  27. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    And I’ve always decried the argument, stated with religious fervor, that the executive’s chiefest and only obligation, his only duty, is the financial return to his stockholders. This is morally vile, and allows, oh say, American banks to lend to one’s enemies in time of war, and American arms dealers to sell products and to enemy. If it can be maneuvered legally, what’s the harm? It’s been done I’m told and it is repulsive.

    Thus far we appear to be in about 7/8’s agreement, but here’s the other eighth. As stated, your first sentence is overly broad. Those running a public corporation have a legal, fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder return, and it’s true that this duty is not always consistent with what’s “best” for the workforce. However, it’s not “vile,” nor does it lead directly to the extremes of “capitalism.”

    Can we agree yes to ‘chiefest’ but no to ‘only’ obligation? 

    • #27
    • January 5, 2019, at 1:30 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  28. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Flicker: French introduces the phrases “victim-politics populism”, “changes into an angry tale of what are they doing for you?”

    He’s got it exactly backwards. They’re not demanding the government do something for them, they’re angry because the government was actively working against them. We can all sit a circle and chant “Government shouldn’t chose winners and losers,” but that’s not going to stop them from doing it.

    It’s not that government isn’t doing stuff for me, it’s that it is doing for others who are hurting me. 

    Propping up businesses is 1)not a legitimate function of government, and 2)poisonous in the long run. 

    I can justttt about excuse Carter’s bailout of Chrysler – they were making our tanks (though we should have seized everything directly connected with that and given it over to whoever bought Chrysler and passed security checks). 

    Watching the mighty fall doesn’t cause me exultation (though it might if I had done more falling personally). It clarifies wonderfully though that risks have consequences. 

    I can forgive people being rich and shielding themselves from consequences. I cannot forgive people being connected and having the government shield them from consequences. 

    A person can shrug and say, ‘well, that is the way of the world’. But that comes off as far too…French. 

    In summation, I don’t want government to do more for me, I want it to do less for everyone else. 

    Probably won’t make a very good bumper sticker. 

    • #28
    • January 5, 2019, at 1:41 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  29. Randy Webster Member

    TBA (View Comment):
    In summation, I don’t want government to do more for me, I want it to do less for everyone else.

    An important part of conservatism is that I want the government to do less for me, too.

    • #29
    • January 5, 2019, at 1:45 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. Flicker Inactive

    TBA (View Comment):
    Can we agree yes to ‘chiefest’ but no to ‘only’ obligation? 

    I think this is the core of the argument. One interprets his obligation as chiefest, another as only. “Only” allows for any amount of suffering as collateral damage of corporate profit. And that’s what I object to. And it is the popular and apparently the legal (or is usually interpreted to be the legal) obligation.

    • #30
    • January 5, 2019, at 1:45 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
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