Sure the Republicans have managed to bungle two wars, facilitate a recession, and cripwalked all over the Constitution of the United States, but Bill Clinton wants people in West Virginia to know that the real problem is that uppity Negro Barack Obama and his Yankee friends think they're better than you.

Bill's turn towards conservative populism is particularly ironic given Clinton campaign manager Mark Penn's insistence back in February that rural, mostly white states like Kansas and Iowa were not "significant states."

Jonathan Chait says in his excellent piece on conservative populism that "overt racism has all but disappeared from mainstream political life," I'd disagree, (between Islamophobia and Lou Dobbs, I'd say "overt racism" is doing okay) but I'd also point out that was exactly the point of Lee Atwater's turning such appeals into code, not so racism would disappear, but so people could exploit it without being held accountable.

What Chait doesn't say, but what needs to be said, is that conservative populism in politics is facilitated by its prominence in broadcast journalism. Conservative populism is the way that broadcast journalists show they're "in touch with your values."

Conservative populism is essentially white populism, and we can insert all kinds of modifiers about class and region, but what the rhetoric appeals to is really an idealized form of whiteness, for which phrases like "real Americans" are a transparent substitute. It's why wealthy newsmen like Chris Matthews and Tim Russert invoke them so often, as a way of reminding viewers of their "authenticity".

This is their way of "keeping it real," of signifying to the hood they know what's up. Only instead of calling out Harlem or Queensbridge, Russert calls out Buffalo and Matthews lets you know he still understands "regular people" aren't black and they don't have college degrees.

With high profile broadcast personalities constantly reinforcing race and class stereotypes as part of their identity (product?), it's incredibly difficult for them to turn around and criticize politicians who are doing the same thing. While compared to Obama, Hillary might seem more of a homegirl to voters in West Virginia, the same probably wouldn't be true in November, and certainly reporters using their own conservative populism as a marketing scheme wouldn't give her a pass.

--A. Serwer

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