Okay, youngsters might not. He was a well-known, two-term Oklahoma Democrat who ran for president in 1976 but didn't get very far. "You couldn't call it victory because we didn't run that well," he told a reporter. "But we ran well enough to keep going so it really wasn't defeat. We didn't know what to call it and we just decided to call it quits."
Born a sharecropper's son in the depression-era Dust Bowl, Harris, who will turn 90 ten days after this year's election, barnstormed the country in a rented Winnebago. He made a campaign stop in Murray, Ky., where I met him and got a copy of his book, The New Populism. He named his platform for his little paperback, which was published in 1973.
Harris was briefly back in the news shortly after Trump was elected. Freelancer Richard Linnett wanted to know what the "new populist" thought about Trump, whom much of the media had tagged a "populist."
Linnett's story appeared in Politico magazine in December, 2016. Harris bristled at the notion of "populist" as a Trump moniker. More on that in a minute.
The gaggle of Democrats battling for the right to take on the president come November would do well to take a gander at The New Populism. It's out of print but cheap and easy to come by online.
"The New Populism--and it doesn't matter what you call it--means that most Americans are commonly exploited, but that, if we get ourselves together, we are a popular majority and can take back our government," he wrote.
The New Populism, he explained, "seeks to put America back together again--across the lines of race, age, sex, and region. Those in the coalition don't have to love each other. I wish they would. But all they have to do is recognize their common interest."
For years, well-heeled, right-wing white politicians--bankrolled by rich, white, social Darwinist, one-percenter plutocrats--have been successfully fleecing the 99 percent by playing on white fear and resentment of "the other."
For years, well-heeled, right-wing white politicians--bankrolled by rich, white, social Darwinist, one-percenter plutocrats--have been successfully fleecing the 99 percent by playing on white fear and resentment of "the other." Historically, the pols hustled whites mainly by pandering to racism and nativism.
Trump's main pitch is racist and nativist. But he's broadened the scam to include anti-LGBTQ prejudice, plus sexism, misogyny and religious bigotry.
Anyway, The New Populism was a sequel to Harris's first book, Now Is the Time (also popularly-priced online). It came out in 1971 when Trump, to-the-manor-born, was 25 and living the high life in the Big Apple. Thousands of other Americans--most of them poor and working class whites and minorities--were still fighting and dying in Vietnam.
Trump doesn't talk about it. But he actively eluded the draft and the war via college deferments and a medical deferment in which he claimed that he suffered painful bone spurs on his heels. (On the radio with Howard Stern in 1998, Trump bragged about his womanizing. He also compared his risk of getting an STD in the process to soldiers fighting in Vietnam.)
In Now Is the Time, Harris warnedagainst political demagogues like white supremacist George Wallace, Alabama's segregationist governor who ran for president as an independent in 1968: “Pandering to the baser fears and prejudices that lurk within us all is not what Presidents are for. Officials and candidates— and political parties—have a higher duty, a duty to lead, to search out and gather up and shout forth a better vision of ourselves. We do not only need someone to tell us what we look like when we are at our worst. We need someone to help us see what we can be when we are at our best.”
Six days after Trump, the Yankee George Wallace, was elected, Linnett huddled with Harris, a retired University of New Mexico political science professor. The scribe wanted Harris's take on the victor who had run on a stock, union-busting, enrich-the-already rich GOP platform, while passing himself off--aided and abetted by more than a few ladies and gents of the Fourth Estate--as the real-deal working stiff's champion.
"Trump populism is really just demagoguery," Linnett quotedHarris. "It’s not my kind of populism."
No matter, some reporters and TV talking heads still call Trump a "populist." He's not even an old-time Populist.
Most Populists were poor farmers and city workers victimized by America’s new industrial order. They demanded that government step in and safeguard them against greedy millionaires who, thanks to the “free market,” had gotten rich by impoverishing those who tilled the soil or toiled in mines and mills.
In 1892, the hard-pressed farmers and workers said to heck with conservative, pro-business Democrats and Republicans and started their own party, officially the People’s Party. They didn’t pull punches in the preamble to their party constitution: “The fruits of the toil of millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.” (Compare that to the 2016 GOP platform.)
In a deeply racist time, many Populist leaders dared argue that poverty transcended race. They called for poor whites and poor minorities to unite at the ballot box.
The party was especially strong in rural America, including Harris's native Sooner State and the old Confederacy. Ultimately, Dixie's white supremacist Democratic-powers-that-be shredded the party's powerful Southern wing by race-baiting (their old standby for gulling poor whites in slavery times).
In The New Populism, Harris quoted white Southern civil rights activist, maverick Baptist preacher and author Will D. Campbell: "The system got about everything else from the black man--his back, a portion of his spirit maybe--but it never really managed to get his head. All along, the black man's known more or less what's been going on. But the red-neck--hell, he's never known who the enemy was. If you remember anything about the course of Populism, every time the poor white began getting together in natural alliance with the equally dispossessed black, he'd be told that it meant blacks were going to ravish his wimminfolks, and the Bolsheviks were going to invade the courthouse. He's never known how he's been had."
(Because the Populists were pro-union, they also scared the bejeebers out of Yankee Republican Robber Barons up North. GOP politicians and right-wing press lords lampooned Populists farmers as crazy rubes and Populist workers as ignorant communist wannabes.)
Here's more from The New Populism:
"Racism is a central fact of American history--of human history for that matter. It is not a passing thing. It has been with us from the first, and it's still with us. Realizing that requires a wrenching change in white thinking. White history is what we've studied. The white experience is what we've lived. But there have been blacks--and other minorities--around all the time....We cannot compromise on race. That's what we've always tried, and it's morally wrong. But, in addition to that, compromise is much too costly--in blood, in money, and in self-esteem."
"Economic class is also a central fact of American history--again of human history for that matter. Income, ownership and wealth in America--and the power that goes with them--have become increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. We cannot compromise on that issue either."
"What is happening (has happened) to the old Roosevelt Coalition? That's become the favorite parlor-game of political writers. It was a coalition of poor and working-class blacks and whites, farmers and intellectuals. Can such groups be held together no longer?"
"In a lush farming valley in California, once, I campaigned for the Democratic party's candidates. 'I can't understand these Okies here,' a local official told me. 'I remember thirty years ago they came in here and lived in old car bodies; today, they are some of the strongest supporters George Wallace has.'"
"Ringing appeals to conscience, to join together against 'the common enemies of man' have not been every effective....As chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1969, I had already been forced to think about that. Kevin Phillips was writing in The Emerging Republican Majority that the more the Democratic party worried about the problems of black people, poor people, and the people of the central cities, the more it would drive the rest of the people into the Republican party. That did not seem morally right to me, and I did not want it to be true....Instead of trying to convert people, you have to think about why we are banded together as an organized society."
As relevant to 2020 as Harris's two books are, I doubt they'd produce many Road to Damascus experiences among the most fervid Ever Trumper white folks.
"...For most Trump supporters, his underlying appeal remains largely racist in nature," wrote Ian Haney López in The Los Angeles Times last summer. "As the political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck report in their book 'Identity Crisis,' a study of the 2016 election, support for Trump 'was strongly linked to how Republican voters felt about blacks, immigrants, and Muslims, and to how much discrimination Republican voters believed that whites themselves faced.'"
About the time Linnett interviewed Harris, the media post-mortems were starting to establish--without empirical evidence--that economic insecurity--not racism--had driven millions of whites of modest means to vote for Trump. In time, scholars dug deeper into the election results, conducted scientific studies and concluded that racial resentment was the main motivator for most Trump supporters. Click here, here and here.
Studies also revealed that it wasn't less-well-heeled whites who made up the bulk of Trump voters. The New York Times’ Thomas B. Edsall, citing researchers, wrote that “the surge of whites into the Republican Party has been led by whites with relatively high incomes — in the top two quintiles of the income distribution — but without college degrees, a constituency that is now decisively committed to the Republican Party.” (A big chunk of them are also Christian evangelicals of the Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can't-stand-you persuasion.)
At any rate, I don't know if Michael Moore is a Fred Harris fan. He Feels the Bern, so I suspect he might be.
But like Harris, Moore is clued in to brass-tacks politics. “We all tried at Thanksgiving dinner to convince the conservative brother-in-law of the wrongness of his ways, but he’s three years deep into pro-Trump," Moore said on All in With Chris Hayes last month. “All of our time right now between now and next November, has to be getting out the largest political party in America, the non-voters. 100 million people who do not vote.”
Amen. It's a waste of campaign time and treasure chasing after Ever Trumpers who see 45 as their Great White Hope and whose idea of putting "America back together again" is bringing back the days when straight, white Protestant males ran everything, when womenfolk doted on their menfolk, stayed home and raised the kids, when African Americans stayed invisible, when Latinx folks stayed south of the border and when LGBTQ folks stayed in the closet.
A lot of the devoutest Ever Trumpers are of the neo-Confederate, GOP-stands-for-"God's-Own-Party" faith in my deeply Red, around 90 percent white, western Kentucky woods.
But non-voters--and voters suffering buyer's remorse from 2016--just might be a "fertile mission field"--a term familiar to the late Will Campbell's denomination--for what Harris spelled out in The New Populism and Now Is the Time and preached when he stumped the country.