I just had a thought today and I thought I’d share it with you guys and see what you have to say about it.
I got to thinking about what the hell is wrong with America, and why we have such a fascination with electing “normal people” to the highest of offices possible in the US Government. In a way it’s almost like populism. The GOP took George W Bush and turned him from a rich kid of a former President who had by all means every thing going in his favor in life before he was ever born, into a guy that people felt they could relate with. And in some sense, I believe that Bush himself felt he was like this. But the key idea was to make GWB into a guy you’d want to have a beer with, which resonates deeply with the American public.
I’d also say that this is what made people like Clinton to a certain extent. Bill Clinton that is.
Now we have McCain and Palin. Now really I don’t think McCain fits this bill at all, which is actually why I think he was having trouble before picking Palin. Americans want someone as President that they can relate to. It’s a pretty stupid way of picking a President but I feel like it’s largely true.
At any rate, there are a couple of reasons why I feel that Americans choose “someone like them” as their leaders, and I want give my opinions about it for the debate.
On the one hand I feel that people prefer the “guy like me” approach because they think that Washington is fundementally flawed and that everyone there is tainted. I don’t think that this is the true reason for it though.
I think that the real reason that Americans prefer their presidential candidates to be low brow is because it validates the American Dream. I think that the American Dream is a large part of the reason why Americans actually tolerate the situation with regards to inequality and poverty.
The American Dream suggests that everyone is able to make something of himself, therefore the converse of it suggests that to some extent everyone is responsible for his or her own failure. This is one of the reasons I believe that so many people are tolerant of poverty. It’s their fault they couldn’t make do with the opportunities we all have.
I feel that this ideal of the American Dream is what spurs the idea of always liking the underdog to win in America. We always like to see people beat the odds, proving that even you can succeed. And this is what I believe largely drives people to vote for politicians that are either clearly not qualified (like Sarah Palin) or those who are simply pretending to be like the average guy (Like GWB). Because deep down we’d like to believe is that all it takes is determination and soundness of character to succeed in this country. After all, our folklore is full of people who have made riches based on such characteristics. And we select for these stories of people becoming successful that were just like normal people. It’s almost like we need to reaffirm this time and again.
At any rate, this is why I think Palin is so popular. I also think that for the first time in a long time, neither of the two candidates actually possess this trait. Obama, while resisting being painted as an “elitist” and looking down on the little guy, doesn’t also try to appeal to the little guy like Kerry and his ridiculous photo-ops (Hunting, playing football?!).
McCain sort of carries this banner, but only because of the “Maverick” label. That’s really the only part of this he complies with. But he doesn’t come across like Bush at all. Obama is precluded from this because he grew up overseas. His story is really an example of the American dream come true, but for the people who care about it, it doesn’t fit the bill.