The Agenda

Phil Mitsch’s Populism

Recently, a state senate candidate in New Jersey made an uncouth remark via Twitter, and the folks at Gawker have poked fun at him for it:

New Jersey state senate candidate Phil Mitsch knows just what America needs to get his awful state back on track: tax reductions, something called “mandatory mortgage loan modifications on at risk residential properties,” and more cooperation from the ladies. “Women, you increase your odds of keeping your men by being faithful, a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom,” he recently tweeted.

As I watched Mitsch’s campaign video, however, I noticed that his main preoccupation is the lingering impact of the financial crisis:

The U.S. financial crisis is much, much more serious than what government and media is making it out to be. The real truth is that America’s second Great Depression actually started in the year 2005. Now, that’s the bad news. The good news is there are solutions that can end it. 

This is a view not unlike the one that has been advanced by a number of scholars, including Justin Wolfers. Using an income-based rather than a spending-based measure of GDP, the downturn began in late 2006.

The candidate goes on to discuss the fundamentals that drive U.S. economic growth: (1) consumer disposable income, (2) consumer borrowing, (3) consumer spending, (4) real estate ownership, (5) real estate values, and (6) real estate equity. I don’t share Mitsch’s reading, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Basically, Mitsch believes that a real estate recovery is essential to getting the U.S. economy back on track. Because we’ve been facing “a massive real estate deterioration scenario since 2005,” Mitsch offers proposals for “new and revolutionary legislation.” Among others things, he wants to see: (1) a 2% state mortgage program, (2) a 6% state credit card program, (3) mandatory lender modifications, (4) mandatory short sales, (5) abolition of the credit rating system, i.e., abolishing prime and subprime credit ratings, among other ideas. 

Is it just me or is Mitsch running as a populist? One might even suggest that Mitsch is running as a populist of the left, except that he is emphasizing the interests of homeowners rather than public employees. It is easy to imagine a populist of “the center,” e.g., the George Wallace of 1968, advancing similar proposals that protect the interests of upper working-class and lower middle-class constituents. 

The punchline behind all of this is that Mitsch’s remark wasn’t made in isolation, as Gawker belatedly acknowledges:

We had some time to explore Mitsch’s Twitter feed a bit and—after scrolling back by about 800,403 tweets—learned that he gave this advice to men on the same early September day he advised the ladies: “increase your odds of keeping your women by being faithful, a gentleman in the living room and a stud in the bedroom. So at least he’s playing it fair. Also from the same day (September 2, for the record) are these gems: “When a woman lets a man make love to her she is really letting him make love to her heart and soul“; “To hell with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just give me passion“; and “A little sex everyday keeps the doctor away. Screw the apple” (uh, no thanks!). Not really sure how any of these opinions relate to standard state senatorial duties, but maybe there’s something about New Jersey politics that I just don’t understand.

And so it seems that Mitsch, a champion of many of the ideas that have been enthusiastically advanced by the Keynesian center-left, as well at least some moderate conservatives focused on debt overhand and the dysfunctional real estate market, has been badly undermined by his taste for offering homespun wisdom via Twitter. 

My guess is that Phil Mitsch’s brand of populism might actually resonate with a large number of voters. One of the also-rans in the Republican presidential race might consider embracing his homeowner-centric prescriptions, as she or he would instantly find a large constituency of voters who are desperate for solutions that will lighten the burden of underwater mortgages.