Salena Zito

Appeals to economic populism – pitting people against so-called “interests” – are as old as the Democratic Party; Andrew Jackson successfully used them in the presidential election of 1828.

Jacksonian Democrats never opposed capitalism, however, and most certainly did not support a stronger central government.

“It wasn't until decades after Karl Marx really got the idea going that American politics witnessed the first mainstream appeals to class warfare made by Bryan,” said Nichols.

Since Bryan remains the only major-party candidate to lose three elections, you have to wonder how well class warfare works with Americans.

This is why Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell both dismissed the argument as wrong.

What the Obama campaign misses is that the working class – white, middle-income, blue-collar Democrats – deeply resents the dependency class and will not respond positively to such rhetoric.

Successful populists such as Republican Teddy Roosevelt and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt did not allow their championing of “the little guy” to devolve into class warfare.

They realized that Americans tend to view the United States as a land of opportunity and do not begrudge anyone for becoming wealthy.

The line between these two attitudes is sometimes fine. Yet class warfare has never won an election, while appeals to economic populism sometimes have succeeded.

Besides the attacks on Bain Capital, the Obama campaign appears to be using an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink appeal. Gone are 2008’s lofty appeals to “Hope” and “Change” – but what remains?

In the fashion of Chicago pols throughout history, Obama appears to be targeting his appeals to each faction of the Democrats’ coalition – women, African-Americans, big labor, young voters, gays – with values-based appeals and material offerings.

These tactics may add up to less than a complete strategy, however.

And how does his new campaign theme – “Forward” – fit into this puzzle?

Perhaps it is just a catchy phrase. Yet those who consider it another code word know that it traditionally has been part of the lexicon of the European socialist movement.

Another appeal to class warfare?


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.