Occupy Wall Streeters claimed that they were populists. Their ideological opposites, the Tea Partiers, said they were, too. Both became polarizing. And so far populism, whether on the right or left, does not seem to have made inroads with the traditional Republican and Democrat establishments.
Gas has gone up about $2 a gallon since Barack Obama took office. Given average yearly rates of national consumption, that increase alone translates into an extra $1 trillion that American drivers havencollectively paid in higher fuel costs over the last 54 months.
Such a crushing burden on the cash-strapped commuter class is rarely cited in the liberal fixation on cap-and-trade, wind and solar subsidies, and the supposed dangers of fracking.
When the president scaled back the number of new gas and oil leases on federal lands over time, he was appealing to his boutique base -- not to those who can scarcely meet their monthly heating and cooling bills.
Should there not be an opening for a conservative populist response?
Unfortunately, pro-drilling conservatives sound more like spokesmen for oil companies than grassroots champions for strapped motorists.
Total student debt is approaching $1 trillion. That is an unsustainable burden for recent graduates under 25 facing an adjusted youth unemployment rate of over 20 percent.
Yet the well-off are more interested in ensuring that their children get into tony, name-brand colleges than in fretting about how to pay for it -- a fact well known to our price-gauging universities.
On the other end, need- and ethnic-based scholarships and waivers have made college more affordable for the poor than it is for the middle classes. The parents of the latter make enough to be disqualified from most government help, but not enough to afford soaring tuition.
Banks find student loans backed by government guarantees profitable.
Top-heavy universities assume that there will always be more income from the subsidized poor and the rich. Again, middle-class students are caught up a creek without the paddles of wealthy parents or a generous government.
There is also a populist argument to be made against the farm bill.
There are more than 48 million Americans on food stamps, an increase of about 12 million since the beginning of the Obama presidency. At a time of record-high crop prices, the U.S. government still helps well-off farmers with some $20 billion in annual crop payouts and indirect subsidies.