As the media and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama force-feed the country populism, National Public Radio (NPR) went back to the movement’s roots.
Famed populist William Jennings Bryan – a three-time Democratic presidential nominee was the subject of NPR’s “All Things Considered” “Radio Diaries” Oct. 14. Even though Bryan never won a bid for the presidency, NPR commemorated his famous “Cross of Gold” speech given at the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The speech propelled Bryan, an unlikely candidate, to the nomination in 1896 and later to the 1900 and 1908 nominations, but that wasn’t where he left his biggest mark on history according to NPR.
“But at the same time, Bryan’s platform of really believing that you need to make the masses more prosperous and that prosperity will work its way up to the rich rather than trickle down, his support for more government intervention in the economy to help the have-nots – that really became the core of modern liberalism and that changed his party,” NPR’s Joe Richman explained. “You can say in many ways Bryan was one of the most important losers in American political history.”
As National Review’s David Frum pointed out, there are striking similarities between Bryan’s populism and Obama’s liberalism. In some ways, Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech had the effect on the Democratic Party in 1896 as Obama’s 2004 Democratic convention speech had on the party in Boston – both speeches were full of “progressive ideals.”
“Like Obama, Bryan was a charismatic young political (just 36 at the time of his first presidential run!) with a thin political record,” Frum said. “Yet on the strength of one legendary speech at a Democratic national convention, he was clutched to heart by the party's left wing and made the repository of its grandest hopes on a whole range of so-called progressive causes.”