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"Populism" Trumps "Liberalism" in Times' Labeling Battle

Government-run health care isn't left-wing or liberal but merely an example of "economic populism."

Reporters Robin Toner and Kate Zernike don't find much liberalism among the 2006 Congressional class in Sunday's lead story, "Incoming Democrats Put Populism Before Ideology."


The Timessticks to the "populism" label, even when the newmembers they profile are advancing liberal ideas like universal health care.


Yet the Timesdoesn't hesitate to use the term "conservative." "The last time Congress changed hands, the Republican freshman class of 1994 roared into town under the leadership of Newt Gingrich as speaker and quickly advanced a conservative agenda of exceptional ambition.


"Many in the class of 2006, especially those who delivered the new Democratic majorities by winning Republican seats, show little appetite for that kind of ideological crusade."


Toner and Zernike do note that established Democratslean liberal: "These attitudes could lead to tensions with the party's liberal base in Congress - many of the party's expected committee chairmen are traditional liberals - and thus occasional headaches over the next two years for the Democratic leaders, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid.


Even while denying that the new Democrats are all that conservative, the Times doesn't dare use the word liberal to describe their more liberal views, using the lessloaded term "populism."


"But many of these freshmen Democrats are hard to pigeonhole ideologically. Even among the most socially conservative, there is a strong streak of economic populism that is a unifying force."


"Heath Shuler, for example, the former professional football player and newly elected House Democrat from North Carolina, is anti-abortion and pro-gun, but sounds like an old-style Democrat on economic issues."


"'I was taught at a very, very young age about faith and personal responsibility, and through that, that responsibility was about helping those who cannot help themselves,' Mr. Shuler said. 'If you look at what the Democratic Party stands for, it is about helping others who can't help themselves.'


"Like other Democrats, he supports legislation to increase the minimum wage and make college tuition tax deductible. He also opposes trade agreements that he says have led to a 78 percent loss in textile industry jobs in his state."


Another issue that's just "populist," and not liberal? Government take over of the health care system.


"That economic populism extends, for many candidates, to a new emphasis on expanding health coverage. Congressional Democrats who lived through the Clinton administration's failed effort to create a national health insurance plan, which many believe was a crucial factor in the Democrats' losses in 1994, have been wary of broad health legislation for years. (And being in the minority, they were unable to do much about it, regardless.) But the class of '06 is adamant that something major can, and will, be done.


"Dave Loebsack, a political science professor in Iowa who unseated the veteran Republican moderate, Representative Jim Leach, said he intended to sign on to proposed legislation to create a single-payer, national health insurance program 'as one of the first things I will do when I get to Congress.'"