populist (pop·u·list): a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people

The American political system has been the playground of populists since its beginnings at the Second Continental Congress of 1775. The most recognizable and successful practitioner of this most revered political rhetoric is Andrew Jackson, whose “Grassroots Campaign” of 1828 won him the presidency and was immediately followed by a raucous public inaugural party at the White House that earned him the nickname “King Mob.” While times may have changed, this tried and true method of politicking is alive and well today in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Few people batted an eyelash when the McCain and Obama campaigns first began slinging populist jargon. For McCain, who has always had a penchant for playing to the center, it was the “kitchen table” speech about middle-class husbands and wives trying to figure out how they were going to make ends meet in the current economic downturn. For Obama, it’s been the vague “hope” and “change” mantra that has come to define his run for the White House. Appealing to the common man, especially in troubled economic times, seems to be important to most presidential candidates. However, this exercise of political routine was turned into a hilarious farce when a journalist asked John McCain last week how many houses he owned. When McCain responded by saying he wasn’t sure and that he’d check with his staff, everyone knew that the Obama campaign would latch onto the gaffe like a blood-thirsty tick. And true to form, they’ve been hammering McCain on it ever since.

Obama delivered a speech retelling the incident to his supporters, concluding that John McCain in fact owns seven houses and therefore has no idea how to relate to the common man. Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia was quick to follow with a speech of his own criticizing McCain’s wealth and prosperity. And on Saturday, shortly after being officially named as Obama’s vice presidential choice, Joe Biden cheerfully added his two cents, saying “Your kitchen table's like mine, you sit there at night after you put the kids to bed and you talk about what you need, you talk about how much you're worried about being able to pay the bills. Well ... that's not a worry John McCain has to worry about. It's a pretty hard experience, he'll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at."

Not seeing the humor yet? The punchline here is that both McCain and Obama’s net worth is valued in the millions. While McCain’s wealth vastly overshadows Obama’s at $25 million to $2.5 million (thanks to his wife’s beer distributorship), Obama is not a pauper by any stretch of the imagination, and has also taken housing-related flak for the purchase of his Chicago home at great discount from convicted felon Tony Rezko. The laugh is watching these two play a rhetorical game of “Who’s The Poorest Rich Guy?” It’s probably one of the most hilarious demonstrations of how much of their own bull these guys end up actually believing when they’re immersed in campaigning for over a year. Two sitting members of the United States Senate, one of the most privileged and pompous American institutions apart from the office they’re both currently seeking, are trying to convince the American middle- and lower-class that they’re one of them! My advice to the both of them is to remember that we live in a republic; we don't necessarily elect people like us, we elect people for us. That means that we (should) understand that it's okay to send sickeningly rich people to Washington as our representatives, just so long as they represent us appropriately.

I would hope that both of them would take a lesson from the fate of this decade’s most famous populist, John Edwards (net worth = $29.5 million), that you should be careful what you wish for. He is now the most common and nauseating creature in politics: the hypocrite. McCain and Obama would do well to leave the extolment of commonness to William Shatner and Pulp, who tell us what being common is really all about (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRPa0GhxGUs).


Luscus said...

George Will made a fantastic point last sunday on George Stephanopolous' show, where he wondered exactly when it was that wealth precluded one from understanding the needs of the poor? FDR, perhaps the MOST aristocratic president in our history, is highly revered as having the MOST understanding of the needs of the downtrodden. Forget of course that his reforms lengthened the depression, but in the stable of Democrat lore, he shines above...and had at least three houses.

Maccrock said...

WOW... That strikes a cord with me. This might be more of a personal rant than an intellectual comment on this post, however, there is little that makes me more upset than rich bitches whining about being the worst off, or even worse, having a competition about who is the poorest.
I might not have grown up dirt poor, but I defiantly did not come from what you would call a "privileged" family. Though my parents, through a lot of sacrifice, did value my eduction, and did what they could to put me through a christian school. I despised growing up around the rich kid snobs, that would bitch about daddy not buying this or that, or about how they got this car instead of the one they wanted they wanted for their 16th birthday, or even about their vacations to murtal beach, or out of the country, when I was lucky enough to get to drive down to Tennessee to visit my grandfather for a weekend once every 3 years, and if we were good, we got to stop by Mammoth cave on the way home.
Even now, while I am still (not because of ill planning on my part, but because my parents couldn't and wouldn't help me out with the cost, and because all of the funds that I had saved up before college were stolen from me the year before I needed them, in a bloody divorce of my parents)in school, I find my self being appalled to the point of actually vomiting my mouth, when I look around myself and find that I am literally drowning in a sea of those little preppy chuds of chum, who grossly take for granted that their parents take care of some, if not all of their expenses, even though they now claim to call themselves adults. These type of people range from the ones whose parents pay for their cell phone cost, all the way to the ones that have not spent one red cent of their own money or shed one drop of their own sweat to afford the opportunity to proceed to a higher education. I have even met,(and in some cases, regrettably dated) some who actually have in their wallet a credit card with their daddy's name on it, which they were given to LIVE ON.
I find that generally the people who are in these circumstances and are ungrateful as to what they have been given, tent to view themselves as higher or better than everyone else, and that they believe that the world or society owes them something, and because of that, weather they are qualified or not, they try to force themselves to the top of everything, often times placing themselves (or trying to) in leadership roles.
Not all, but many politicians can (even if it is awkwardly) be fit into this category.
Now I don't give a flying rats rectum as to weather or not you have wealth, but if you don't but if you do at least be realistic with your status, if it was something that you were just born into then recognize that and say "hey I got lucky, yippy for me". There is nothing wrong with that, but you still have a innate human responsibility to gain a realistic responsible perspective on the world and live so according, not to live like a retarded inbred sheltered narrow minded dumb ass on meth, that has been let loose in a neon colored candy store while the shop keep is out. And if you have accomplished the Americana dream and have worked your way into wealth, then congrats to you, you are the model that keeps our society alive and kicking. However no matter how you came into it, if you are well off enough to buy and sell my ass over and over again, don't you dare think that you can seduce me into believing that you are an every man just like me, and that you and I deal with the same issues and concerns that I do. you will only succeed in making me despise you. The only thing worse than that is doing the same damn thing, and then entering into a competition were your goal is to prove to me that you are the "poor" rich guy and that I need to sympathetically side with you, because you have it so much harder!

And that's my rant

Ben Wheat said...

F-ing A.