If your idea of a populist is an Ivy League law professor fresh from the DC bureaucracy, then you might not get out among “the people” much. Or you could just be from Massachusetts.
The Bay State has imported an Okie to rescue the dynastic “Kennedy seat” from a Republican who redubbed it “the people’s seat.” The local Democrats, habituated to the likes of technocrat Michael Dukakis and brahminesque John Kerry, imagine Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren as a fiery pitchfork populist. Harvard’s Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law does nothing to dissuade them of that belief.
Warren boasts in a television advert that she “grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class.” She allied herself with the 99 percent against the one percent by claiming to serve as an inspiration for Occupy Wall Street. “I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do,” she said of OWS. “I support what they do.” She remarked on the “Left Ahead” podcast, “I’m going for the hick vote here. I just want you to know. Maybe we could start wearing stickers that say ‘Hicks for Elizabeth.’ Could we do that?”
Massachusetts Dems, who live in the third most densely populated state, don’t encounter too many genuine hicks. Perhaps in Concord or Wellesley, living in a $1.7 million home qualifies one as sort of hayseed. But the appeal of populism in a state where the main industries are health care, biotechnology, finance, and academia—not steel, farming, or automobiles—isn’t entirely clear. Like folk music reemerging in Greenwich Village, populism finding a second life in Harvard Square is one of those cultural oxymorons ridiculous to all but those falling for it. It is hard to overstate the hypnotizing effect of a twang in the non-rhotic land of the missing “R”s. To the blue voters of the bluest state, Elizabeth Warren is salt of Harvard Yard’s earth.
Warren’s opponent officially launched his reelection bid in working-class Worcester’s historic Mechanics Hall on Thursday night. As the venue suggests, Scott Brown is running a populist campaign, too. His iconic pick-up truck, no-frills barn jacket, and hard-luck story made for a compelling narrative two years ago. But that was in the days of Tea Party, not Occupy Wall Street, populism.
One more frequently comes across the “p” word in connection to Elizabeth Warren. The Washington Post’s Greg Sergent speculated at the outset of her campaign that “Warren’s run could test the electoral limits of true populism in a way other Dems haven’t been willing to venture.”
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