The Palin shtick has now become the Republican catechism, parroted by every party leader in Washington. Their constant refrain, delivered with cynicism but not irony, is this: Republicans are the anti-big-government, anti-stimulus, anti-Wall Street, pro-Tea Party tribunes of the common folk. “This is about the people,” as Palin repeatedly put it last weekend while pocketing $100,000 of the Tea Partiers’ money.
Incredibly enough, this message is gaining traction. Though Obama remains more personally popular than the G.O.P., Republicans pulled ahead of the Democrats in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, among others, in a matchup for the 2010 midterms.
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.