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IN THE MASSACHUSETTS and Wisconsin primaries earlier this year Senator McGovern took a stance which some political analysts have described as the new populism. McGovern advocated breaking up big corporations, closing tax loopholes, and cutting the taxes of middle-income people. These stands and his forthright position on Vietnam led him to victory.
The major problem facing the new populists is the same as that of their predecessors 80 years ago; race hatred. Populism in the early 1890's was free of rectal overtones, but by 1897 much of its platform was based on provincialism, nativism and racism.
The major spokesman for populism today, in addition to Senator McGovern, are Jeff Greenfield and Jack Newfield. They have produced a statement--A Populist Manifesto--which outlines most of the positions McGovern articulated early in his campaign. The book includes a set of policy prescriptions, but it fails to deal with the two key issues directly related to race-welfare and busing. McGovern has suffered from a similar inability to develop solid positions on these issues.
Welfare should be viewed as a racial issue because people commonly believe that most welfare clients are black freeloaders. It is not uncommon while campaigning in white working-class neighborhoods to hear people complaining about how hard they work to eke out an existence and about how people on welfare (blacks) get to live in hotels.
As has been well documented by now, Senator McGovern's campaign took a nosedive after his tax reform-welfare proposal--which involved giving every Americans $1000--came under attack during the California primary campaign. McGovern's early 20-point lead in the polls slipped to an eventual five point margin of victory. The South Dakota Senator has revised his plan since then, but the substance of his revisions remains unclear to large segments of the American people.
In their book. Newfield and Greenfield totally dodge the welfare question. Greenfield explained in an interview last week that he felt McGovern should have come out against any form of guaranteed annual income. "He should have told the American people that the Moynihan Family Assistance Plan will put more people on the welfare rolls than have ever been on them at any time in history. McGovern should say that he will work to give every able-bodied American a job."
Yet other than opening up the craft and construction unions which employ only a small portion of the work force. Greenfield could offer no specific plans for creating more jobs. Greenfield must surely realize that over 80 per cent of the people on welfare are receiving Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) benefits and unable to work at regular jobs. In 1970 the New York State legislature passed a measure requiring all able-bodied recipients to take public service jobs or risk losing their benefits. About 1 per cent of the state's welfare clients were required to go to work.
Greenfield and McGovern refuse to support a guaranteed annual income because they recognize that people will interpret the measure as an effort to give blacks a free ride. The critical point which the populists have not made is that two-thirds of the welfare recipients in this country are white. Because of legislation related to the War on Poverty discriminate against the white poor, whites have become hostile to most social legislation. Welfare reform must be presented so that whites as well as blacks will feel that they are going to benefit from it. Newfield and Greenfield have shown that legislation must be initiated along class lines, rather than racial ones, but unless populists confront the controversial issue directly, their movement will be weakened.
A COALITION OF middle-class white ethnic groups and blacks based on their common interests is a key component of the new populism. Newfield said last week that this coalition would initially be urban-based. Unfortunately for Senator McGovern and other populists, it is in the cities that white ethnics are growing increasingly antagonistic toward blacks and Puerto Ricans. We are now entering a period of racial strife as intense as any we have experienced since the end of World War I.
In Chicago, one of the few successful white working-class insurgent efforts against the Daley machine has been led by a segregationist priest, Father Lawlor. Newark, where a black mayor was elected in 1969, has seen almost no interaction between Italians and blacks. New York's formerly liberal Jewish candidates are now emphasizing their opposition to housing projects and school busing. And many people in the Irish and Italian sections of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, have left the Democratic Party to join the Conservative Party.
Neither Newfield and Greenfield nor McGovern has been able to deal with the highly inflamatory issue of busing. Newfield and Greenfield can avoid it in their book, but as a presidential candidate McGovern has been forced to speak on the subject, in spite of his reluctance to take a firm position. The power of the issue was demonstrated in the Florida primary, where Governor Wallace won a smashing victory. The anti-busing forces won another major victory in that primary when an anti-busing resolution got 75 per cent of the vote.
McGovern's primary successes were in states where busing was not an over-riding issue. His adherence to the approach Newfield and Greenfield outlined brought him stunning victories. Canvassers for McGovern emphasized the inequities of the tax structure and the electorate responded enthusiastically to this appeal.
Another nagging problem of the new populism is the source of the money for the social reform programs which Newfield, Greenfield, and McGovern have supported. The cost of financing the Kennedy National Health Insurance bill would be staggering. And if taxes are to be raised to pay for such a program, some of the increase will fall on the shoulders of the working class.
In a review of A Populist Manifesto in New York Magazine, James Q. Wilson, chairman of the Government Department, wrote that "In Forest Hills, New York and Pontiac, Michigan, whites do not think that the most important question of the decade is whether General Motors is one giant company or five nearly-giant companies or whether Carter Burden's money is confiscated by a 90 per cent estate tax. They think that the most important issue is whether housing projects with poor black tenants will be built in their neighborhoods and whether white school children will be bused to distant black schools." Clearly there is some truth in this statement.
But as McGovern learned in some primary states, there are many people who are deeply concerned over the inequities in our economic system. The job of the new populists is to show these members of the white working class that blacks must be their allies, rather than their enemies. But to do this they must be explicit and by hedging on issues like busing and welfare, all they do is quash out any hopes for a new populism.
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