The Good: Exceptionally well-written, Amusing humor and columns, Well-researched articles.
The Bad: Largely dry and beats the same horse to death constantly.
The Basics: A good, not great, newspaper, The Progressive Populist heroically champions liberal values in one of the dullest possible formats as every article and column is economically obsessed.
I suppose I made it onto some liberal mailing list when I started receiving sample publications of magazines and newspapers I had never heard of before. I have no problem with this, I am an unabashed liberal and I am always looking for new information sources. But when I returned from vacation to find the latest issue of The Progressive Populist on my desk, I had to scratch my head and double-check with those I live with. No, I had not ordered it and no one had ordered it for me. I suppose I fit their demographic and they sent it to me. Again, I've no problem with that. I suspect from the typeface in the title and the contributors that this newspaper is related to the monthly magazine The Progressive.
So, today I sat down and went through the twenty-four page newspaper called The Progressive Populist and I decided that it is for two people who are not me: 1. People with more time than I and 2. People who are obsessed with economics. I am neither (which ought to be obvious as I cannot have more time than me) and the "Journal From America's Heartland" is one I conceptually support and can see merit in, but will not be subscribing to. As a liberal, I suspect the writers of The Progressive Populist will appreciate that. But ultimately, this journal is just not for me. Perhaps it is for some of my readers, so . . .
The Progressive Populist is a twenty-four page folded newspaper that is impressively wordy and not at all addy. In fact, there is one page - the final page - devoted to advertisements and the ad is for subscriptions to The Progressive Populist. The result is a decent newspaper that feels like it is living up to its philosophy of being for the people as opposed to for some conglomeration, multinational or the pharmaceutical companies. There are also no annoying "reply cards" in this newspaper. It bears a $2.00 cover price and the subscription of twenty-six issues is $30.00.
As a liberal, I understands the roots of the Populist message. Populists in the late 1800s were collectives of farmers who tended to be culturally conservative, but economically liberal and The Progressive Populist seems to be appealing to that same base. The result is a newspaper that reads with the diction of The Wall Street Journal and the political astuteness and liberal tendencies of The Nation while focusing almost exclusively on economic issues. There's something ironic about a progressive magazine or newspaper beating to death the evils of capitalism and expecting readers to keep reading. After all, socialists, communists and others who are to the left of hard capitalism already get that capitalism as a system hurts them and their businesses. As a result, most of the twenty-four pages of the magazine, I spent either bored or confused (some of the economic intricacies of the articles are above me).
The Progressive Populist employs a fairly wide array of familiar liberal voices from Texan Jim Hightower to David Sirota to John Nichols, Arianna Huffington, Alexander Cockburn and Amy Goodman. Jesse Jackson had a column arguing in favor of Congress adopting Obama's recovery plan in the issue I received and Garrison Keillor included a column with his usual dry wit on spelling and John Updike. In other words, conservatives will find plenty of liberal voices to attack and brand with their usual rhetoric of how liberals have taken over PBS, love the blacks and women and I'm sure some of the writers I don't know are gay, too.
The problem I had with the issue of The Progressive Populist I received was not that it had a great array of recognizable liberal writers, it was the homogenous quality of what the newspaper was about. The newspaper was all about economic issues, without fail. Opening with writer Thomas Schaller's railing against the Republican votes against the stimulus bill that was passed without Republican votes, the newspaper quickly becomes one long diatribe about economics and its relation to politics. As Dr. Manhattan notes in Watchmen
(reviewed here!) about how useful "a photograph of oxygen is to a drowning man," The Progressive Populist's analysis of complex financial issues are similarly useful to poor, evicted folk.
That said, the most practical and useful information in the newspaper was tucked away on page 22 in Amy Goodman's column. There, she details how an Ohio Representative has argued for homeowners who are being taken by the banks to simply squat and details the legal challenges many of the bought and sold mortgages are likely to create if only squatters challenge the banks to produce the mortgage notes. It is an intriguing and practical solution and it offers those facing foreclosure a practical alternative to surrender and foreclosure (where were you Representative Kaptur before I abandoned my house and let the pipes freeze and burst last winter?!).
The remainder of the newspaper is either too complex or lofty to be useful to those who are struggling the most, though there is an interesting note on losing credit by buying using cash at thrift stores in the final articles, or simply repetitive. Many of the writers act as cheerleaders to the efforts of the Obama Administration and while that is good of them, it provides readers with little else but the repetitive mantra of "all our problems can be traced back to the economy!"
The Heartland tact of The Progressive Populist is played out well for its target demographic. Joel D. Josephs argues that restoring American manufacturing and encouraging consumers to buy American ought to be a part of the stimulus bill and there are articles on organized labor as well. There are practical immigration articles, which appeal to the farmbelt's need to import labor just as Carl Pope makes an argument for renewable energy that utilizes much of the Midwest's resources. Ralph Nader even pops up to write a column on taxing speculators to raise funds for green alternatives.
With the constant mantra of economics above all things, The Progressive Populist is a fairly dry read and there is little outside that in terms of art and entertainment. In fact, there are a few comics and only one column on the arts (an article on Bob Dylan). There is a little bit of entertainment (if an article about Rush Limbaugh's place in the Republican Party leadership can be counted), mostly in the form of Keillor's column.
But some of the voices that are usually witty and entertaining even as they inform are dryer here, like their personalities have been beaten out of them in the face of the economic seriousness. Jim Hightower's whole page article, for example, is lacking in his usual fiery sarcasm that liberals tend to enjoy from him.
I can see The Progressive Populist being a godsend in rural communities throughout the Midwest where readers might be subjected to unabashedly conservative local papers which applauded all of the reactionary policies which the Bush Administration used to appeal to the cultural mores of the citizens there while destroying their abilities to financially raise their families. But living in New York, even Upstate New York, I find my news options pretty fair and with the internet, I can enjoy a few articles on economics without paying for a lot of paper that continues to beat that dead horse into my brain.
For other magazines reviewed by me, please check out my take on:
Star Trek Magazine
Clipper Regional Magazine
For other magazine reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.