The Politics of Brie: Time to Scrap a Label

In election years, there are Soccer Moms, NASCAR Dads, and the Silent M ajority. But writer David Kamp says it's time to ditch one popular political nickname: the Wine-and-Cheese Liberal. The difference, he says, is that it's not true. Kamp is the author of the United States of Arugula.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

People who run political campaigns and people who report on them love neat little descriptions for blocks of voters.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Soccer Moms.

SIEGEL: NASCAR Dads.

BLOCK: Reagan Democrats.

SIEGEL: The silent majority.

BLOCK: But David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula, says it's time to ditch one popular political label.

DAVID KAMP: It's the home stretch of the election season, and the rhetoric is turning nasty. In the blogosphere, we hear that Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee in Connecticut's Senate race is, quote, "a wine and cheese liberal who doesn't resonate with blue collar people." Anti-war agitators are disparaged for, quote, "sipping chardonnay with brie on baguettes." How can it be that in the year 2006, we're still trotting out the wine and brie trope? We happen to live in a glorious era of unprecedented culinary sophistication, and it cuts across party lines.

Why, just this summer there was a fundraise for Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee for governor of Ohio, that not only featured a keynote speech by Karl Rove but a baked brie appetizer. What's more, America's foremost cheese expert, Steven Jenkins, is a self described political conservative. Still, the political inflammateurs persist in their attempts to scare voters with that supposed scariest of bogeymen, the elitist culinary sophisticate.

In the Montana Senate race, the Republican incumbent, Conrad Burns, is fighting for his political life against Jon Tester. Tester also happens to be an organic grain farmer. Sure enough, Montanans were recently subjected to a push poll funded by GOP operatives that asked does knowing that organic farmer Jon Tester voted for nearly half a billion dollars in tax increases make you even more favorable to Conrad Burns?

In Senator Barack Obama's new book, he recounts his being scolded by an aide for requesting Dijon mustard at a T.G.I. Friday's, as if all it would all it would take to smother a man's political aspirations is one tiny dab of a French condiment.

And who can forget the 2004 primary season when the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, unleashed one of the most famous political TV ads of all time, a spot in which a fussy old couple declares that Howard Dean should take his take his tax hiking, government expanding, latte drinking, sushi eating, Volvo driving, New York Times reading, body piercing, Hollywood loving, left wing freak show back to Vermont where it belongs.

Okay, let's look at the facts. In the entirety of Vermont, there are four Starbucks stores, whereas in the city of Houston alone, in the heart of Bush country, there are upwards of 100 Starbucks locations. The point is Americans of all stripes are hip to good food and drink. Our burgeoning culinary curiosity is a uniter, not a divider. So the next time you see a candidate smeared as soft on cheese and soft on crime, just take it with a grain of hand harvested sea salt.

SIEGEL: David Kamp is the author of The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation.

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