Echoes of William Jennings Bryan in Rhetoric of Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz

In the populist rhetoric of Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are echoes of the rhetoric of William Jennings Bryan, one of the leaders of the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century. Angry populism has split between left and right since Bryan’s time, which may explain why it is not as politically powerful as it could be.

Warren and Cruz are personally quite different, almost opposites. I am referring instead to their shared belief, and a common ideology in movements on the left and the right, that the deck is stacked against average people, big institutions are working against average people, and the “moral” position is to take back the government for the majority of average working people who play by the rules. This was the message of William Jennings Bryan, who inspired both the Progressive Movement of the left, and, eventually, religious right fundamentalism. His parents were deeply religious, fundamentalists, and he also believed strongly in the social gospel. The divisions between religious right and religious left that we perceive today did not exist in his time.

Bryan, because of his defense of creationism at the end of his career, gets a bad rap from “progressives,” when in reality he was a founder of the Progressive Movement. The Democratic Party nominated him THREE TIMES for president, in 1896, 1900, and 1908. Learn more.


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