The ugly populist attacks on Mitt Romney

I’m not a fan of populism in politics, since I think it usually boils down to an ugly appeal to people’s baser instincts, with the sole benefit accruing to the demagogue making the statements.  Huck is emerging as precisely that kind of populist, as Jay Nordlinger demonstrates by discussing Huck’s new attacks on Mitt.  Now that he’s finished with his attacks on Mitt’s religion, he’s going after Mitt’s social status:

I don’t intend to comment much about presidential politics in today’s column, but let me say this: I find the ganging up on Romney a little unseemly. I mean, not the fact of it, because this is politics, and we’re all grownups (allegedly). I’m talking about the manner and tone. There seems to be some envy about — to go with some other ugly qualities.

I know that a lot of people — anti-Romneyites — are fired up by that line of Huckabee’s: “People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of the guy they work with rather than the guy that laid them off.” Apparently, he was alluding to Romney. And I find Huckabee’s one of the most depressing lines I have heard in ages — depressing from every point of view.

First, grammatical: They say Bush can’t talk? I thought Huckabee was supposed to be silver-tongued.

Second, philosophical, or political, if you like: Huckabee expressed low populism, or “sheer demagoguery,” as Ronald Reagan used to say. Huckabee’s line could have come out of the mouth of John Edwards, or John Sweeney, or David Bonior. Is this what we want in the Republican party now? Why not have just one big Democratic party?

And third — oh, call it moral: It seems we’re now campaigning on the basis of what the other guy looks like. What do we say about how Huckabee looks? Frankly, I think I would have liked him better when he was fat — he might have been humbler.

If I were a Romney spokesman, I might have responded roughly as follows: “To me, Mitt looks like a guy who can create jobs, create businesses, and create wealth — who can make the economy go, so that people like Mike Huckabee can spend their lives preachin’, gettin’ votes, and taxing people.”

It seems that there is a fair amount of resentment of Romney — for his wealth, success, etc. For the whole package he represents. And is there a worse human trait than resentment or envy? I also might note that I hear a fair amount of denigration of Romney’s business background — I mean, from Republicans. Which is terribly odd and dispiriting.

Romney has his faults, heaven knows — for one thing, his shifts in position are disquieting, smacking of opportunism as they do. (Of course, he also might have just changed his mind about some things.) But Republicans should welcome Romney at the highest levels of our politics. Are we so petty and crabbed and hidebound that we can’t make room for someone like him?

Years ago, Thomas Sowell wrote a column that I have never forgotten. He said that liberals field their A team, while conservatives field their B team. What did he mean by that? He meant that the “best and the brightest” of the liberals slaver to enter politics, or journalism, in order to control other people’s lives. But our best and brightest — the Right’s elite — are in the economy, inventing things, establishing businesses, and making the country grow.

Well, here is Romney, a clear member of our A team, who segued from business into politics, and succeeded. He is a mixture of private-sector accomplishment and political accomplishment. So boo, hiss, right? Wouldn’t we rather have our old, familiar pols, who have been in politics for about 8,000 years? When did John McCain start running for president? 1928?

I was reading an AP story yesterday — here — and saw something quite surprising: “millionaire Mitt Romney.” Here is the full sentence: “Among those listening to the affable Arkansas governor were evangelical Christians, who on Thursday night helped propel Huckabee past millionaire Mitt Romney to win the race’s first test of strength, the Iowa caucuses.”

So that’s how he’s to be described now? “Millionaire Romney,” as though he were merely some rich boy, running on his trust fund — to hell with the Olympics, to hell with Bain Capital, to hell with the governorship of Massachusetts? Was the 2004 Democratic nominee ever described as “millionaire John Kerry”? How about the other candidates this time? How much does Fred Thompson have? Will we ever read “millionaire Fred Thompson”?

Things might get interesting if Huck actually challenged Mitt’s policies, but to do so might expose Huck to more substantive anslysis than he can afford.

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  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ Jack

    I am thoroughly unimpressed with Huckabee. The old Huckster seems to have nothing more than “religion” supporting him. Surely we can do better than this.

  • jj

    Good column. I spotted the piling on Romney too, and thought it singularly unseemly. Also not necessary. It is the job of the candidates to point out and highlight differences between themselves, but those differences ought to be somehow related to philosophy, governance, etc.

    The fact that Romney is a more successful business-man than Huckaby is too bad for Huck, I guess, but the fact that Huck is ass enough to publicly resent it tells you pretty much all you need to know about him.

    I agree with Nordlinger completely: why is Romney’s success troubling to anyone? Is success not the object? Was this country not founded on the idea that it ought to be possible?

  • expat

    I remember coverage of the SLC Olympics here. Of course they loved the scandals– just what you expect from a materialist capitalist country. Then there were the hand-wringing journalists worrying about surviving the ordeal without their accustomed doses of alcohol or pehaps running into a polygamist. Somehow after Mitt turned things around, reporters were saying that Utah wasn’t what they expected. The people were friendly, the games well organized. All in all it was a good experience.

    There is something to be said for quiet competence. It’s a shame the media can’t stand the quiet part. And why was Kerry’s money OK? Or for that matter why is it OK for WJC to charge those outrageous speaking fees?

  • Risa

    Great column. The anti-Romney forces have been staggering to watch. And disappointing. Here the Republicans have the best candidate they’ve had in years, and they’re destroying him from the inside out. Huckabee is a joke. If he wins, he’ll drive many Republicans and Independents to vote for the Democrat. Huckabee would be an embarrassment if he gets the nomination. He tries to come off looking high-minded but is skilled in under-handed, nasty politics.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com david foster

    I’m sure there are people who dislike Romney because he has been successful, but there are other factors. Romney comes across as an individual who is so into “process” that he forgets the purpose of the process. He seems like the kind of consultant who is so focused on applying the template or “paradigm” that he once learned that he doesn’t see the actual business in front of his eyes.

    I’d still vote for him over any of the Democrats, though.