Sunday, February 01, 2004

Prospecting for Gold
There's good stuff at The American Prospect today. Harold Meyerson, who writes for The Prospect and the Washington Post, spent some time with John Kerry in New Hampshire last week. Before the voting, he evaluated Kerry's style on the stump, a piece which should probably be read as a companion to the one I mentioned yesterday by Jack Beatty in the Atlantic. After the voting (and Kerry's acceptance speech), Meyerson drew parallels between Kerry and FDR, another Eastern patrician who managed to connect with average Americans in a time of great economic crisis. While I am tempted to say the latter piece is a bit too star-struck and wishful in its tone, I hope he's right.

The Prospect's Michael Tomasky notes another hopeful sign--all four of the candidates with a legitimate shot at the nomination (Kerry, Edwards, Dean, and Clark) are embracing some sort of populist message, which is in direct contradiction to the wishes of the Democratic establishment. That people-vs.-the-powerful message seems to be resonating with voters, if record turnouts in New Hamsphire and Iowa are any indication. In turn, that might mean that voters are ready to turn out in big numbers to beat Bush. (Late addition--for another perspective on the anti-Bush vote in New Hampshire, even from Republicans, click this from John Nichols of the Capital Times.)

One last Prospect piece worth mention is Matthew Yglesias' skeptical look at John Edwards. I have said previously that I think Edwards has only a hazy idea of the true stakes of this election, and Yglesias' piece confirms my analysis. While optimism is something Americans like to see in their leaders, Edwards' optimism sometimes seems like whistling past the graveyard--as if doesn't want to say how bad things really are right now. For example, he is talking about the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, but Yglesias says his proposed solutions are old-fashioned margin-fiddling--which feeds back into my sense that Edwards is approaching this like just another presidential election, which it clearly is not.

A letter-writer to the St. Petersburg Times said this week that the reason Americans get lies from their leaders is that we ask for them: "Jimmy Carter tried to give straight talk to the American people about the connections between economic stability, foreign resources and foreign policy. And the American people answered him with this: 'We want cheap gas, convenience, and economic growth, and we don't care who you have to invade, kill, or do business with to get the job done. Just tell us lies and make sure we feel good about it.' Enter the Reagan administration and its subsequent reincarnations." So it's hard to imagine us suddenly embracing candidates who want to change a system that seems to be giving us the very things we want. Nevertheless, populist rhetoric may be the most effective way of convincing the electorate of the long-term risks of Bushism and making the case for a smarter approach.

In his piece, Tomasky mentions in passing one aspect of populism that's going to cause a problem--elitist opinion-makers in the media don't get it, and would rather talk about things they are more comfortable with, like the color of Teresa Heinz Kerry's dress. But once they grasp what's happening, it won't take long for blowhards like Chris Matthews to label such populism as class warfare. To which the proper response is: class warfare is exactly what the Republicans have been waging on the country for years. Just because we don't acknowledge it doesn't mean it's not real. And just as we awakened one September morning to the already-existing threat of terrorism and took steps to fight it, it's time we awaken to the already-existing war at home and take steps to fight it.

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