Tuesday, May 1, 2007

On the Republican Aristocrats

Rick Perlstein tells us that the emperor is wearing a monocle:
President Bush was explainnig why we need an immigration plan that "recognizes that people are doing work here that Americans are not doing." He illustrated his argument with an impromptu tale he probably thought, in his heart of hearts, was as "folksy" they came:

"If you've got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I'm talking about."

A small slip, but a stunningly revelatory one, really. "If you've got a chicken factory": so casual. Instictively, it's easier for the President of the United States to empathize call to mind someone - to empathize with someone - who owns a factory than someone who works in one.

Allow me to add my favorite example of how distant America's #1 down-home good-ole-boy is from the struggles of ordinary Americans. In February of 2005, Bush was doing a town-hall meeting in Omaha when a woman got up and told him that she was a single mother, and she was working three jobs. How did he respond? Here's what he might have said: "My god, your life must be so hard. You're already doing the incredibly difficult job of being a single parent, and your economic situation is so desperate you need to work three jobs to get by? That's awful. What can I do to help? Can I raise the minimum wage so maybe one or two of those jobs might be enough? Can I make sure you and everyone like you has health insurance? Can I increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to put a few more dollars in your pocket? I'm so sorry that in the wealthiest country on earth, hard-working people like you have such a load to carry."

But no, that's not what Bush said. This is what he said:

"Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that."

Yes indeed. A single mother working three jobs? An inspiring story of can-do American spirit.

I'm not arguing that rich people shouldn't be leaders, or that even if you're rich you must have experienced poverty to be a good president. Nor do I think it's useful to quiz candidates on what the price of a gallon of milk is. That kind of minutia isn't the point. But those with power should at least have a clue about what regular people go through.

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