nomic matters but strong social control in matters of traditionalrnmorality; liberals are the opposite. Populists, according tornthis theory, favor economic control and traditional morality,rnwhile the purist libertarians support minimal governmentrnacross the board. There is some descriptive validity to such anrnapproach, but like so many views taken from 30,000 feet, it isrnentirely detached from ground-level politics.rnIdo not pretend to know what, if anything, are the permanentrndistinguishing characteristics of populism. Instead of spinningrnthe wheels of speculation, I would rather begin by lookingrnfor evidence in the career of a man who, if not exactly a populist,rnfulfilled the longings of American populists for nearly 30rnvears: William Jennings Bryan. Bryan is a complex character: arnreactionary who thought of himself as a progressive liberal, arndemagogic orator who prided himself on mastering the facts, arncracker-barrel philosopher who rarely knew the details of an issuernbut always penetrated to the essence. If there was a goodrnangel of the American character from 1896 to the 1920’s, it wasrnBryan.rnBorn to Southern parents in Illinois, Bryan did not movernwest to Nebraska until he had finished school and practiced lawrnfor some time. He was 27 years old when he took his wife tornLincoln, a Republican stronghold and a very unlikely placernfrom which to launch the career of a Democratic politician.rnBryan made his name by opposing his own President, GroverrnCleveland, on the gold standard.rnThe bimetallism case is complex. Some supporters werernowned by the silver lobby, which had considerable influence inrnthe West; others, like Bryan, were defending the interests of indebtedrnfarmers. This has been seen as the perennial demand ofrnfarmers—and, indeed, of all debtors—for cheap money and inflation,rnbut in Bryan’s view, going on the gold standard was arndecision to increase the purchasing power of money, with thernresult that a $1000 mortgage taken out when the country wasrnon a bimetal standard might have to be paid back with moneyrnwhose purchasing power was a great deal more.rnBryan saw silver as a moral question that divided workingrnmen from their exploiters: “The poor man is called a socialist ifrnhe believes that the wealth of the rich should be divided amongrnthe poor, but the rich man is called a financier if he devises arnplan by which the pittance of the poor can be converted to hisrnuse. The poor man who takes property by force is a thief, butrnthe creditor who can by legislation make a debtor pay a dollarrntwice as large as he borrowed is lauded as the friend of a soundrncurrency.”rnFor Bryan, all the talk from businessmen about an “honestrndollar” was hypocrisy: “There is not and never has been an honestrndollar,” which he defined as a currency “absolutely stable inrnrelation to all other things.” An unstable currency inevitablyrnbenefited some people at the expense of others, and conversionrnto the gold standard was simply a means of stealing from thernrich and giving to the poor—in other words, politics as usual.rnHis speech, delivered in Congress in August of 1893, markedrnBryan both as a defender of the farmer and as an unreliablernDemocrat. He wisely did not seek reelection in 1894.rnOver the next two years, ex-Congressman Bryan, repudiatedrnby the leadership of his own party, laid his highly improbablernplans to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency.rnWhat no one counted on was the power of his voice and thernforce of his character. (Microphones virtually eliminated thernorator’s advantage over the schemer). By good luck and a littlernfinagling, the boy orator of the Platte ended up the final speakerrnin the debate over silver. This “Cross of Gold” speech, althoughrnit contained nothing that Bryan had not said before,rnwas a masterpiece of American oratory. Without electricity orrnamplification, he electrified the audience. There is probablyrnno single speech since the days of Patrick Henry that has donernso much.rnPutting himself squarely in the Jeffersonian tradition of hisrnparty, he declared himself an heir to the Jacksonian revolution:rn”What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand, as Jacksonrnstood, against the encroachments of organized wealth.” Bryanrndrew the line between (in Carlyle’s words) “the idle holders ofrncapital” and the “struggling masses, who produce the wealthrnand pay the taxes”; between the East (while insisting he hadrn”not one word against those who live on the Atlantic coast”)rnand “the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of thernwilderness . . . who rear their children near to Nature’s heart,rnwhere they can mingle their voices with the voices of thernbirds—out there where they have erected sehoolhouses for therneducation of their young, churches where they praise their creatorrn. . . “rnThe populist, in defending the economic interests of MainrnStreet against Wall Street, inevitably pits the vigorous Westrnagainst the degenerate p]ast, and Bryan, when he was not runningrnfor national office, was not always so reticent about thernEast. Returning to Nebraska after his resignation as Secretaryrnof State, he “congratulated the people upon living 36 hoursrnfrom New York . . . the Allegheny Mountains are the salvationrnof the rest of the country, as they serve as a dike to keep thernprejudice, the venom, the insolence, and the ignorance of thernNew York press from inundating the Mississippi valley.”rnIn Chicago, Bryan was—as he always was—on the side of reality,rnof real people against the cruel theories that robbed themrnof their livelihood, their hope, and their faith: “You come to usrnand tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard;rnwe reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertilernprairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and yourrncities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farmsrnand the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”rnHis defense of reality over abstraction drove him, in the lastrndays of his life, to participate in the Scopes Trial, where hernhoped to affirm a living faith in the living God, as opposed tornthe dry and deadly speculations of the Darwinists. He neverrnpretended to have a grasp of scientific theory, and in private hernconfessed that he did not know whether or not the Darwinistsrnwere right on the facts. What he did know was that high schoolrnand college Darwinism was corrupting the morals of the students,rnand in response to Darrow’s plea for freedom of thoughtrnand expression in Dayton, he quoted Darrow’s defense ofrn”Babe” Leopold in Chicago. Leopold was one of two spoiledrnrich boys who had committed a brutal and pointless murder. Inrnhis defense, Darrow had put the blame on Nietzsche: “Is therernany blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophyrnseriously and fashioned his life upon it?” Upholding thernright of universities to teach such dangerous doctrines, Darrowrnstill insisted that these modern teachings had “meant the deathrnof many.”rnBryan declared this ACLUism a “damnable philosophy,” andrndeclared—without in any way extenuating the crime—the universityrnguilty of corrupting souls. “When you go back to thernroot of the question, you will find that the legislature not onlyrnMARCH 1996/9rnrnrn