Populism is often described as a phenomenon of the Right, but there is a populism of the Left as well. Hatred of the rich, or even of the merely prosperous, is a common, if discreditable, emotion. Recently, Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Spanish left-wing populist party, Podemos (“We Can,” a name clearly of Barackian inspiration) has fallen foul of the very emotion upon which his movement depends and which he has done so much to foment.
Iglesias and his companion Irene Montero (the party’s parliamentary spokesman) have bought a villa with a swimming pool in a well-to-do enclave not far from Madrid. They paid more than $700,000 for it, by no means a pharaonic sum, but well beyond the means of most of the electorate to which he has appealed by excoriating the privileged or exploiting class that he calls la casta, the caste.
Iglesias’s detractors, naturally enough, rushed to accuse the couple of hypocrisy. Here they were, posing as champions of the poor and downtrodden but rushing to join the well-heeled. Things were made worse for Iglesias by the fact that he had not long before attacked the Minister of Finance, saying “One cannot direct the economic policy of a country from the terrace of a flat worth $700,000.”
Iglesias found his defenders, too. “Is it necessary, to be left-wing, to live wretchedly in a housing project?” asked professor and political scientist Juan Carlos Monadero. “There is in this neither scandal, nor shame, nor abuse,” said the left-wing writer David Terres. “It is a perfectly legal property purchase with money earned honestly.”
This would have been a perfectly legitimate defense of Iglesias and his companion—if, that is, the movement had not presented itself as being against the whole economic system. To maintain that the money was made legally and honestly is, in effect, to admit the legitimacy of the economic system, whatever its deformations—and, in turn, to admit that Podemos is founded on nothing but demagoguery and encouragement of a base emotion, envy.
Photo by Eduardo Parra/Getty Images