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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Exposing GOP Candidates’ Bogus Populism

Noam Scheiber’s irresistibly-titled “Pickup Artist: Populist Poseur Fred Thompson” in The New Republic illuminates a cornerstone of GOP strategy — to portray their rich boy candidates as good-ole, aw-shucks working-class guys. Scheiber has some fun describing Thompson getting all gussied up in blue jeans and boots, delivering folksy speeches from the bed of a rented, used pick-up truck, and then explains something Dems need to better understand:

…Thompson is hardly the only Republican to have ridden phony populism to elective office. In 2003, Haley Barbour, perhaps the most accomplished Washington lobbyist of his generation, pig-in-a-poked and dog-won’t-hunted his way to the Mississippi governor’s mansion. (One of Barbour’s signature tricks was to have himself paged at Ole Miss football games.) And, of course, a certain Yale-educated Northeastern Brahmin reinvented himself as a brush-clearing country boy en route to winning the White House in 2000. These days, phony populists win with such regularity that you’ve got to look beyond any particular candidate to find an explanation.

Republicans are very good at this scam, despite the fact that it would be extremely difficult to identify even one of their policies that actually benefits the working-class. Conversely, they are adept at portraying Democratic candidates, whose policies actually help working people, as elitists. Witness now, for example, the GOP’s concerted effort to portray John Edwards, the son of two union organizers and an advocate of genuine populist policies, as an elitist.
Dems need to get wise and mount a relentless assault on the GOP’s bogus populism. Reading Scheiber’s article is a good start.

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