It’s time again to play the regular guy game in American Political Journalism. The old “which one of these candidates would you like to have a beer with?” game. Lest we forget, who was the winner of the last Regular Guy contest?
Our current president was the winner of the last “Regular Guy” sweepstakes. Under his watch: 9/11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, decreased standing in the world, Katrina, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the movement of most of the country’s wealth into the hands of the richest 2%. So, why does this contest matter again?
From Jamison Foer’s Media Matters column this week:
Most people understand that in a time of war, with the nation teetering on the edge of recession (if one hasn’t already started), and the housing market collapsing, and an administration that views the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and the Bill of Rights as optional, assessing candidates based on who would be the most fun to have a beer with is not the way out of this mess; it’s the way we got into it in the first place. Most people — but not political journalists.
Which isn’t to say that there is nothing candidates can do to avoid having reporters relentlessly mock them as out-of-touch elitists: They can run for office as Republicans.
George W. Bush and Al Gore were both sons of successful politicians, both attended private schools and Ivy League colleges, but only one was portrayed by the media as an out-of-touch elite; the other was a “regular guy.” Bush owns $13,000 worth of bicycles — a fact that never seemed to come up when the media were portraying John Kerry’s windsurfing as the pastime of the wealthy. Kerry was skewered for ordering a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese — and when Bush lied about ordering his with Cheez Whiz, the news media politely stayed silent. John Edwards’ expensive haircut was endlessly portrayed by the media as evidence that he was an out-of-touch elitist dandy –but how often have you seen a reporter menti on that George W. Bush handpicks the cloth for his $2,000 suits?
During the height of the media frenzy over Edwards’ haircut, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd made fun of him for visiting “the Pink Sapphire spa in Manchester, which offers services for men that include the ‘Touch of Youth’ facial, as well as trips ‘into the intriguing world of makeup.’ ” But, as Bob Somerby pointed out, John McCain has also taken a trip “into the intriguing world of makeup” at the Pink Sapphire. Somehow, Dowd forgot to include that in her column — and the rest of the media (except for the New Hampshire Union Leader) forgot as well. (A Nexis search for “John Edwards AND Pink Sapphire” returns 71 hits. One news report available on Nexis mentions McCain’s visit to the salon. One.)
It’s worth remembering that they’re all elites. For myself, I don’t want someone who has the common touch—that person is the one who reaches for my wallet when I’m not looking. I want someone who is really good at what they do, so good that they move into a small class of people who are not just good but amazing at what they do, which is, yes, an elite group. That’s what I want. Give me a great president.