Friday, March 03, 2006

Responsible demagogues

The telegenic and wildly popular Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is talking about slashing city spending and programs to eliminate the city deficit. That's most surprising and impressive. I was wondering what his practical politics would be once he donned the responsibilities of office. And this is a good sign.

It's interesting that in the past few decades populism seems to have actually been the friend of small government. Ever since ancient Roman tribunes played to the mob by increasing the corn dole, populists have been thought to be irresponsible demagogues who use their popularity to increase welfare spending, thus pleasing the masses, and becoming ever more popular (at least until such fiscal irresponsibility bears its fruits). But now that the entire legislative system has become enslaved to pork barrel politics, the only leaders actually willing to tackle spending are the ones whose personal popularity allow them to rise above the fray. Witness Ronald Reagan, John McCain, and even Arnold Schwarzeneggar (who was willing to attempt reform, because of his former popularity, and only failed because the public sector unions managed to destroy that popularity). In a curious twist of political history, it seems that demagogues are the only responsible politicians these days.

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