Tom Franks has an interesting article in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. The article defines the "backlash" (his term) that he feels defines the now 30+ years-old positioning of the Republican Party as the populist party.
Generally speaking, Franks sees the backlash act as at least a two-parter: 1) class warfare that positions Democrats as rich elitists and out of touch, and 2) accusations that Democrats were treasonous during the Vietnam War. Ultimately, 2) is an echo of 1). It was "rich kids" who didn't fight in Vietnam.
What is more, Franks contends, this backlash act is successful in large part because Democrats don't counter it. What else explains how the two parts of the backlash could be believed by so many when they are both untruths?
Here's Franks on that: "The illusion that George W. Bush 'understands' the struggles of working-class people was only made possible by the unintentional assistance of the Democratic campaign. Once again, the 'party of the people' chose to sacrifice the liberal economic policies that used to connect them to such voters on the altar of centrism. Advised by a legion of tired consultants, many of whom work as corporate lobbyists in off years, Kerry chose not to make much noise about corruption on Wall Street, or to expose the business practices of Wal-Mart, or to spend a lot of time talking about raising the minimum wage."
A particularly good paragraph: "Again and again, in the course of the electoral battle, I heard striking tales of this tragically inverted form of class consciousness: of a cleaning lady who voted for Bush because she could never support a rich man for president. Of the numerous people who lost their cable TV because of nonpayment but who nevertheless sported Bush stickers on their cars."