Many news stories in places like the Village Voice, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post describe you as a prairie populist. Yet populism is probably such an overused political adjective that it has become almost meaningless. For example, Jack Kemp and George Wallace call themselves populists, as do you and Jim Hightower. What exactly does that term mean, and are you a populist? Well, I don’t think I know what being a Populist means. I think the reason the labels are used so extensively these days, whether it’s liberal or conservative or populist or neoliberal, is because people who write want something that is descriptive that they can use easily to identify someone. They’re like postmen they want a slot for the mail, they want a slot for the politicians. But I don’t know exactly what being a populist means. My inclination politically has been to represent the interests of the independent, the little guy, the small businessperson, the small producer, the people who work for a living. It’s classically in public policy a fight between those who have and those who don’t, or those who have a lot of power and those who don’t have a lot of power. And I think that maybe the interest in pursuing the working person’s best interest is kind of the interest of a populist. It’s hard to describe. You know the reason I’m a Democrat is I think the instincts of the Democratic party in dealing with people problems are better instincts and ones I identify with. But the strain of the Democratic party under the Roosevelt tradition is something that’s been adopted by most Democrats in town here. And the old strain of the Jefferson-Jackson populism supporting the notion of the independent producer out there in society is one that’s kind of ignored. And so what I’m trying to do here is probably deal more with the Jefferson-Jackson strain of the Democratic ideals saying, “Yes profits are good, I support economic growth, profits and jobs but you won’t long have political freedom unless you have economic freedom, and economic freedom is measured by a lot of independent producers out there family farmers, small business people, who have some amount of economic power. Not much, but some, and you disperse that economic power among the many, and then you’ve got yourself the conditions for both economic freedom and also political freedom.” That’s how I identify the populist theory that comes up under the Jefferson-Jackson strain of Democratic politics. There’s not much of that around here. Almost always in Washington the Democrats are talking about programs. They are so programmed into program thinking that they are ignoring it [populism], and it’s a very important tenet of the Democratic philosophy. 1980 was a terrible year for liberal Democrats, as we all know. In Texas, many Democratic leaders like the lieutenant governor and House speaker looked at the returns and concluded that Democrats would have to move to the right if they hoped to regain voter support. Do you agree with their prescription? And also, what message did you bring to the people of North Dakota that convinced them to vote for you at the same time they were turning out in record numbers for Ronald Reagan? I think that the American people were voting against Jimmy Carter and were supporting the only alternative that was available. I don’t think the country was moving appreciably to the right nor do I think Democratic politicians should move to the right if moving to the right means spending more money but just spending it for defense and giving giant You almost think sometimes that we should have psychologists as staffers over at the Ways and Means Committee instead of lawyers and accountants. . . . tax cuts but just giving the major cuts to the big corporations or just standing on the sidelines and cheering while merger-mania takes place. If that’s what moving to the right means, I think it’s a form of economics that’s foreign to the notion that I have of America’s future. So, my message in North Dakota has been, I support free enterprise. I support the market place. I think that’s the strength of this country. I don’t have the same vision of the marketplace that President Reagan has. His vision is a vision of the DuPont’s and the Cargill’s and U.S. Steel. My vision is of the Jones’s and the Kristofferson’s and the Schmautz’s who open their business doors in the morning and close them at night and who rely on competition to serve the market place. I think those are the kind of folks you’ve got to give an opportunity to. And if they have an opportunity to work their will in the market, then you have a broad dispersal of ownership and economic democracy. My message is I support jobs and profits and growth. I also support a strong defense. I have a different idea than the President of what constitutes a strong defense. I don’t think building three new aircraft carriers at three billion dollars a piece represents an approach to a strong defense. We have completely different ideas of how you get there but you know, people who are progressives have got painted into the corner of not being for a strong defense. Well, speaking as one progressive, I sure support a strong defense. I just have different notions of how we get there. Also, as a progressive I support free enterprise. I’m for profits. I think jobs are great. I think economic growth is important. I think that when I go to the economic race track, I am betting on a different horse than the president is. And I think I’m betting on the right horse. Because if you bet on an old nag yesterday’s industry that’s not efficient, that’s too bureaucratic, too big, clogging the marketplace, choking competition you’re not going to win. And that’s why this economy is in trouble. I will come back to some economic questions in a minute. But speaking of your record in North Dakota, you gained the reputation as a vigorous enemy of corporations that weren’t paying their state taxes. Although I don’t know for sure, I bet that your opponents charged you were ruining North Dakota’s business climate and driving away investment. How did you counter those charges and in fact, did your actions reduce economic growth in North Dakota? You’re right. I was called antibusiness and was told that what I was doing was ruining the attractiveness that corporations might view North Dakota with when looking at new plant locations. My response was very simple. My response was I’m not anti-business. I’m just saying that any corporation that wants to come into North Dakota and do business should come in and do business under the same guidelines and the same groundrules and pay the same taxes that our North Dakota businesses pay. 8 AUGUST 6, 1982
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.