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April 25, 2008
Amidst the Campaign
Trivia, Food Prices Rise
When is the last time food managed to become a campaign
The answer is four years ago, when Republicans and
conservatives made much of the fact that the “elitist, effete” John
Kerry ordered a Philly cheese steak sandwich topped with Swiss rather
than Cheez Whiz.
Campaign coverage has become more and more substance-free
over the years, with this year’s obsession over ministers and Hillary
Clinton’s experience with firearms ranking as the absolutely silliest
display, probably ever. There was a day when American journalism had no
standards, but even those – by comparison – were sobering, serious
discussions of policy.
The question is how bad things have to get before the
public simply ceases to tolerate it.
We could find out in a very negative way. It’s no state
secret that the cost of food is headed northward. In fact, it’s evident
to anyone who looks at the receipt when they’re done shopping. The
prices of basic staples – eggs, milk and cheese – are all going up. So
As hard as it is on the household budget, it’s still
better here than overseas, where food line rioting has broken out.
Food riots overseas . . . just the thing to calm Americans
already jittery over their grocery bills. Just in time, Sam’s Club and
Costco, stores famous for selling in big quantities, have limited their
sales of rice.
A shortage? Not according
to industry insiders, who say that the U.S. is looking at a bumper crop.
Plus, this is hardly Minute Rice we’re talking about, but exotic jasmine
and basmati rice and long-grain white. Hardly the stuff typically
whipped up in a household with two parents tired after working all day.
Still, if food prices
continue to rise, by November it’s doubtful whether anyone will care
about whether Hillary Clinton can knock back a shot of expensive sipping
whisky or any of the other trivialities that have consumed the
Prices are being pushed
northward by a combination of a devaluing dollar, competition for ad
space between wheat and corn and competition for corn between food and
transportation. All of this should be placed against the backdrop that,
for the first time, we depart a period of economic expansion with the
median family income lower than when we started. It’s no wonder that a
vast majority of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong
The continued rise in the
cost of food, plus the squeeze it puts on household budgets, will not
help the Republican candidate. He will be saddled by the impression that
food prices are a reflection of the economy, which is a reflection of
the competence of the guy leaving office. An incompetent president
inspires a deep desire for change (so do highly controversial ones),
which tends to make handing the torch within the same party difficult.
That could be the kind of
issue that just simply drives the campaign, ending media obsession with
the kinds of nonsense and trivialities that have so far consumed it. It
might be giving average voters more credit than they deserve, but it
seems highly unlikely that anyone will want to hear about a candidate’s
minister when the average voter has a hard time affording a gallon of
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