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'Populist rage' a catchy headline, but does it accurately describe Americans' mood?

CHICAGO — Over the airwaves and in print, Americans are being told repeatedly that the stumbling economy has transformed the country into a simmering pot of "populist rage."

Frank Rich at the New York Times posited that "unchecked populist rage" could overrun President Obama's agenda. Fareed Zakaria on CNN asked, "So, the populist rage against these million-dollar bonuses and the companies that give them — has it all gone too far?" And Hardball host Chris Matthews recently went to commercial with this tease: "Up next, how should Democrats and Republicans harness this populist rage?"

One would think that heads have rolled, that the foreclosed-upon and suddenly 401(k)-less masses are marching up Wall Street, ready to rip out their pound of flesh.

And yet, not so much.

"I wouldn't say I'm enraged," said Michael Boldin, co-founder of the California-based Populist Party of America. "I am pretty irritated."

Populist irritation? That's not going to fly with the pundits.

"I love the country," Boldin said. "I love my friends, my family, and when I see things being done that are just devastating to the future, that does irritate me. But does charging the capital with pitchforks and flames help anything? I don't really think so."

It seems "the masses" might agree. Jen King, spokeswoman for Home Depot, said: "I haven't heard anything about the sales of our pitchforks increasing." And the torches they stock are strictly the tiki variety.

Tea party protests are scheduled nationwide for April 15, but tea has more of a calming effect. And while the term "populist rage" does pop up all over the Internet, online fomentation isn't a march on Washington.

So why, buffeted by economic bad news, aren't we overthrowing something?

Lauren Langman, a psychology professor at Loyola University, said the people hurt most by the economy are the ones least organized to protest.

"We just don't have powerful economic organizations anymore," Langman said. "The unions are scrambling just to save themselves. In many ways I think we're much better organized in this country to protest abused pets — through groups like the SPCA — than we are to handle these kinds of economic issues."

'Populist rage' a catchy headline, but does it accurately describe Americans' mood? 04/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 5, 2009 9:19pm]
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