This G.O.P. populism is all bunk, of course. Republicans in office now, as well as Palin during her furtive public service in Alaska, have feasted on federal pork, catered to special interests, and pursued policies indifferent to recession-battered Americans. And yet they’re getting away with their populist masquerade — not just with a considerable swath of voters but even with certain elements in the “liberal media.” The Dean of the Beltway press corps, the columnist David Broder, cited Palin’s “pitch-perfect populism” in hailing her as “a public figure at the top of her game” in Thursday’s Washington Post.
That Republican leaders can pass off deceptive faux-populism as “pitch-perfect populism” is in part a testament to the blinding intensity of the economic anger and anxiety roiling the country. It also shows the power of an incessant bumper-sticker fiction to take root when ineffectually challenged — and, most crucially, the inability of Democrats to make a persuasive case that they offer anything better.
The Obama White House remains its own worst enemy. No sooner did Palin’s Tea Party speech end than we learned of the president’s tone-deaf interview expressing admiration for “very savvy businessmen” like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. With that single remark, Obama ingeniously identified himself with the most despised aspects of both Washington and Wall Street — the bailout and the bonuses. He still doesn’t understand that to most Americans, Blankfein is a savvy businessman only in the outrageous sense that he managed to grab his bonus some 17 months after the taxpayers had the good grace to save him from going out of business altogether.