Not Every Populist Wants to Be Popular

On Friday, I attended the breakfast of the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council group.  It’s a group of business owners, lawyers and other shady types that gathers to hear speakers on Virginia and national issues.
This Friday, our speaker was a well-known political scientist at George Mason University named Mark Rozell.  He was breaking down the 2006 races in Virginia.
No great surprise there.  It’s something we’ve all done (I took a stab at it on November 8th).  Mr. Rozell focused on the anti-Iraq war message from the Webb campaign and its effectiveness in consolidating the Democratic and independent vote.  
In the course of his talk, he mostly dismissed the “populist” message of Webb as being electioneering rhetoric.  In other words, no Fairfax County homeowner gets turned on by this stuff.  
That’s where he got off track, because he made two mistakes:  1) assuming that professional people don’t view themselves as “workers” and 2) assuming that public leaders always say what they believe is popular — and not what they truly believe.
More on #1 later.  As far as #2, I can claim a shred of insight.  As a Councilman and Delegate, I can think of many statements I’ve made (too many?) that angered the listeners in the room.  And I knew they’d be angry and I said it anyway.  That’s part of leadership.  
For Jim Webb, I met him a year ago.  This was three months before he declared his candidacy.  I asked him why he wanted to run as a Democrat and he spoke about the growing disparity of wealth and opportunity in American culture.  He called himself a “Jacksonian Democrat” in the sense of the party’s mission to represent working people.
I took that message at face value and I still do today.  In fact, that is the same message that Senator-Elect Webb wrote in the Wall Street Journal in a column immediately after the election — a column which raised hackles amongst conservative commentators.  
It’s a strong message and not everyone is expected to agree with it.  But it’s an authentic message that resonates with many, including me.  And it was formulated without the help of a poll or a political consultant.  That is the authenticity that voters want, and that’s what they selected on Election Day.


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