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Thursday, Jan 24, 2008, 2:40 pm

Huck and Sam’s Club

By Adam Doster

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I'll give Jarrett a break on Huckabee blogging by pointing towards this pretty interesting profile in the American Conservative, which argues that the former governor's success may coincide with an intellectual move by conservatives like Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam that focuses on rising middle-class anxiety. They call it the Party of Sam's Club, or the undeveloped "compassionate conservatism" on which our 43rd president once campaigned.
This wouldn't mean an abandonment of small-government objectives, but it would mean recognizing that these objectives--individual initiative, social mobility, economic freedom--seem to be slipping away from many less-well-off Americans, and that serving the interests of these voters means talking about economic insecurity as well as about self-reliance.

While this philosophy could be electorally valuable down the road (at least after the current tent collapses), I don't see it gaining much traction. For one, the anti-tax demagogues still hold significant power in the coalition and won't be shunted aside very easily. Secondly, a more populist GOP will need to find candidates that believe in such a message, and not just appeal to it with rhetoric and down-home charm. Huckabee, called the Huey Long of the race by some, is a weak populist at best. If he's the best the party can do, I doubt economically insecure Americans will flock to the new message.

Adam Doster, a contributing editor at In These Times, is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former reporter-blogger for Progress Illinois.

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