Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not like me. Not one bit.

What I don't understand about the viewers and voters who go wild with joy during convention speeches - coming from candidates on either side of the aisle - is this cold, stark reality that not one of them ever seems to contemplate: there is not one person on that stage who shares the middle class, lower middle class, or upper middle class lives that the viewers are living. Not one.
I'm not talking about someone's "humble beginnings." Yes, we've had some leaders that emerged from rather austere childhoods but let's face it. Once you've had a career in politics that was successful enough to land you in the national spotlight, I'm pretty sure you've left the habits of those humble beginnings pretty far behind. The last president I remember showing any vestiges of simple living was Jimmy Carter and he was criticized for taking the glamour away from the White House. (The glamour?) Rosalind Carter's book, First Lady from Plains, told quite a "fish out of water" story about their early days in Washington.
But getting back to the conventions and the candidates, I don't care how long and hard the speakers deliver their "I'm just like you" messages. Just isn't so. Every single candidate is wealthy, and privileged, and nothing like you and me.
So why do we buy it? Why do we feel like we have to connect on a supremely personal level with the politicians who want to sit at the top of the government's flow chart? Why can't we elect them without feeling the love?
The truth is, I don't care how much the president is "just like me." In fact, I hope the president is smarter, shrewder, and more collaborative than I. I want discerning, open-minded, experienced leadership in that office. I hope the president hires a staff (based on nothing but their ability, experience and character) who can execute the tasks at hand and knows when to stop micromanaging to let them do the work. I hope he or she has a track record of measurable, demonstrable, obvious success in something in this life beyond tireless campaigning and delivering rousing stump speeches.
How can a lifelong politician know anything about working in the private sector?? How does a senator who lives and works in Washington, DC, whose family lives housands of miles away, relate to the day-in, day-out challenge of raising children? (Spare me the long-distance connections and email and any other thing in defense of being involved with your children from a distance. Yes, you can be; it's certainly possible and lots of people do it.) But long-distance parenting - or even long-distance marriage - as a result of a political career by itself makes most politicians not like any of us.
Whatever happened to the idea that you don't have to like "the boss," as long as he or she does the job at hand - and then some - and treats you fairly? No one said you had to be best friends. No one said you had to simpatico to respect someone's leadership and talents.
I guess their deeper message of politicians who are "just like me" is more along the lines of this: I stand before you as the absolute embodiment of the best Americans can be. Sure, I used to be like you - but I've realized the dream. Through hard work and determination and gumption and guts and feistiness. You can, too.
Umm, no I can't. I can be the star of my own life, I guess, but other than that, I'm not going to be the next junior senator from Pennsylvania who becomes a presidential contender in 8 years.
As one of my sons put it, we can't all be the star. If we were who would sit in the audience and clap??

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