BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : SEPTEMBER 11, 2000 ISSUE
COVER STORY

Commentary: Will Populism Stay Popular?


Nothing seemed to be working. Vice- President Al Gore was stuck double digits behind Texas Governor George W. Bush through much of the summer. But then Bush chose as his running mate Richard B. Cheney, the chairman of oil-services giant Halliburton Co., right in the middle of a gasoline price spiral. Gore already had been trying out some anti-Big Business themes in campaign speeches: ''Big Tobacco, big drug companies, big polluters.'' Crowds responded, focus groups approved. So when Gore rose to accept his party's nomination in Los Angeles on Aug. 17, he came out swinging--sounding more like a prairie populist than the man once known around Washington as Senator Science.

Gore's advisers insist there's nothing new about his attempt to turn selected industries into pariahs. Gore has been inveighing against oil and drug-company pricing since he was first elected to Congress in 1976. But, aides concede, his effort to lump the corporate miscreants together--aided by such tales as the plight of little Ian Malone, victim of a tightfisted HMO--seems to be working so far. Gore ''brought some of the old bogeymen out of the closet, and it has helped him extend his post-convention bounce,'' says Christopher Barnes of the Center for Survey Research & Analysis at the University of Connecticut.

The chief strategist behind this ''working families populism'' seems to be former Clinton pollster Stanley B. Greenberg, who recently joined the campaign. Greenberg has refused to talk about the advice he's giving. But Gore has other advisers cheering him on. Speechwriter Robert Shrum, a former aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), is a passionate supporter of liberal causes. Campaign manager Donna Brazile and field organizer Michael Whouley are veteran aides-de-camp for labor candidates.

A populist cast helps Gore win back left-leaning voters who may be intrigued with the candidacy of Green Party nominee Ralph Nader. ''We are encouraging him to keep it up because it works very well with working families,'' says AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney. And Gore risks little by further alienating industries such as gunmakers, which he and President Clinton have spent years castigating.

The danger is that Gore could let his carefully crafted stance on specific issues drift into a general image of Anticorporate Crusader. Most people don't hate corporations--they hate the problems they have created. So the Veep will need to be wary of excessive business bashing. Finding that fine line will be his continuing challenge.

By Paul Magnusson

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

BACK TO TOP


RELATED ITEMS
Too Much Corporate Power?

COVER IMAGE: Too Much Corporate Power?

TABLE: Some Points of Friction

TABLE: Business Week/Harris Poll: How Business Rates: By the Numbers (extended)

Commentary: Will Populism Stay Popular?

Nader's Watchdogs Have Sharp Teeth

TABLE: Chairman of the Anticorporate Board

The Art of Business Bashing

ONLINE ORIGINAL: Three Views on Anticorporate Attitudes



INTERACT
E-Mail to Business Week Online

 
Copyright 2000-2009, Bloomberg L.P.
Terms of Use   Privacy Notice