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Echoes of Discontent: Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson, and the Resurgence of Populism.

In this thoughtful and well written book, Allen Hertzke takes the unconventional view that Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson are more similar than stereotypes might suggest. Hertzke argues that the two preacher-politicians in fact have much in common, having combined prophetic preaching with church-based political organizing to change dramatically the character of American presidential politics in our time. Moreover, he contends that although they appear to be ideological opposites, they can be seen as sharing a similar political perspective, a tendency to see politics as a process in which discontent, resentment toward elites, and faith in charismatic leadership are channeled into a religiously-based brand of popular protest that he calls "gospel populism." To describe this shared populist strain, the author draws on a diverse set of methods and sources: analysis of biographical, historical, and theoretical texts; extensive interviews with Jackson and Robertson as well as with many of their advisors and selected followers; interpretation of survey data from state and national election studies; and firsthand observation of the Jackson and Robertson campaigns over a four year period from 1988 to 1992. He combines these approaches carefully and at times elegantly, and the result is a book that is scholarly, thought-provoking, and readable, and that would be an excellent choice for classroom use.

At the heart of the analysis is the concept of gospel populism, which is described as a paradoxical blending of economic progressivism and social conservatism. Avoiding the once-popular social and psychological explanations that depicted populist politics as the product of authoritarian paranoia or anxiety about social status, Hertzke goes deeper to place populism in cultural and historical context. He finds its roots in the rural and small-town localism of eighteenth-century America, and follows the growing gap that opened over the course of the nineteenth century between this Christian communitarian culture and an increasingly cosmopolitan and liberal one. The diverging strains came into conflict at the close of the century, giving rise to the populist movement and to William Jennings Bryan, whom Hertzke chooses--a bit too blithely given the atypical character of Bryan's brand of populism--as representative of populist sentiments. Advocate of child labor legislation and enemy of evolution, champion of pacifism and prohibitionism, feminist and fundamentalist, Bryan embodied the paradox of economic progressivism and moral traditionalism, of protest and piety, that shaped gospel populism. So too do Jackson and Robertson, as Hertzke describes them: Jackson the economic egalitarian who denounces the abuse of drugs and decries the decline of the family, Robertson the moral conservative who chastizes corporate elites for their greed and champions the Calvinist virtues of Main Street over the conspiratorial schemes of Wall Street. At times the argument is overstated, as in the description of Jackson's agony over abortion, which the author claims he opposed for religious reasons but supported for political ones. In the same way, it is possible to make too much of Robertson's rantings about conspiracies of international bankers and their allies on the Trilateral Commission. At times, Hertzke seems to concentrate too much on similarities of style and too little on differences between the policy positions of the candidates. Nevertheless, the comparison is enlightening, and the book's most important contribution is the insight it offers into the complex character of these politicians.

After a discussion of the development of Jackson and Robertson as religious and political thinkers, the book goes on to link personal and intellectual considerations to political and institutional ones. In a series of chapters, it considers the role of churches in the 1988 presidential campaigns, examines the assimilation of religious activists into the major parties, and surveys the characteristics and opinions of Jackson and Robertson voters. In different ways, these chapters treat the tensions that existed in these campaigns between church-based and party-based politics. Borrowing from resource mobilization theory, Hertzke compares Jackson's reliance on the black church--"the church as precinct"--to Robertson's use of television and mass mailings--"the charismatic network"--and he presents both as threats to established party politics. Contrasting Rainbow Coalition with Christian Coalition, he describes the moral motivations that bring the activists in these organizations to politics, elaborating on the costs and benefits that come to the parties when they recruit them. Finally, interpreting information taken from state and national election surveys, Hertzke shows that Jackson and Robertson supporters have much in common, being as a group more typically female, minority, and working class than the backers of other more conventional candidates. The comparisons go only so far, and Hertzke allows that while women supported the two candidates, they did so for dramatically different reasons, and that Jackson backers took ardently feminist stands while Robertson supporters tended decidedly in the opposite direction. Even so, he is convincing in his claim that the two groups are a lot alike, that they share a religious world view, a perception that elites are not listening to them, and a pessimistic assessment of the future of American politics.

In concluding, Hertzke speculates about the future, and here his argument becomes more challenging and potentially more controversial. Admitting that populist movements usually fail, but citing survey findings that the American electorate seems increasingly alienated and angry, he assesses the potential for a broadly based "resurgence of populism." Here the analysis becomes disconcertingly broad and blurry, including references to recent "populists" such as John Silber, Patrick Buchanan, and David Duke, along with Harris Wofford, Jerry Brown, and even Bill Clinton. Yet by expanding his focus, Hertzke can caution against the dangers, particularly the dangers of anti-Semitism and racism, that can follow from a politics of discontent. Furthermore, he can remind readers of the more positive potential for contemporary populists to take stands that are both egalitarian and morally virtuous. In this regard, he makes an articulate argument that populists of left and right can find common cause in supporting the economic and moral welfare of the nation's children. Ultimately, Hertzke is realistic, resigned to the fact that the promise of populism remains unfulfilled, an echo of discontent. But he is also hopeful that some brand of populist communalism can provide an antidote to the anemic state of American politics, and his book offers a sensible vision and an strong voice in support of a more economically secure and more morally sound politics.

MICHAEL LIENESCH University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Author:Lienesch, Michael
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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