Friday, September 25, 2009

Are Pols Regular People?

James Fallows posts a letter from a friend of his, who suggests:
as an aside: i've long thought it would be an interesting commentary on the stratification in this society to have political candidates asked during a debate if they'd ever shopped at a wal-mart. i have to think that very few could honestly answer yes--and the higher the office the fewer the yeses. to think that a democracy's leadership class should have no connection (other than owning stock--or, in hillary clinton's case, being once on its board) to the biggest corporation in the country, how strange!
Fallows agrees that "a candidate should be asked when was the most recent time he or she enjoyed Every Day Low Prices."

I have no problem with the question -- but I think that most pols would do well on this test, although I can think of some problems with it. What we know about Members of the House is that they do, in fact, tend to be pretty comfortable within their districts, which includes doing things that normal people in their districts do.

On the other hand...Members of Congress are probably somewhat less likely to do "normal" errands for themselves than are other Americans, mainly because of the time constraints involved in keeping two households going.

The second main caveat would be that among the Maddow-watching, Kos-reading, union-supporting portion of the Democratic base, there's a major partisan aversion to Wal-Mart. I doubt if any Democratic pol is going to get into trouble because she answers that sort of question by talking about her trip to Target to get shoes for the kids last week, or how he just stocked up on beer at Costco.

And the third caveat would be that we do have quite a few very wealthy Senators, and while I would guess they are closer in their everyday activities than their wealth-and-class peers, I don't think you will find Jay Rockefeller or John McCain at any discount grocer too often.

At any rate, any pol (whether a candidate for city council or the White House) who isn't prepared to answer questions about the price of bread, milk, or gasoline -- or for that matter, the ad slogans of major retailers in the district -- isn't doing his or her homework. But as to the question of have they ever shopped at Wal-Mart? My guess is that over 80% of the House, and well over half of the Senate, could honestly answer that question with a solid yes.

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