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July 1, 2008
Your Problems? Donít
Ask John McCain; He Canít Relate
Asked the other day about the price of gasoline, and when
the last time was that heíd bought any, John McCain offered up a bizarre
ďOh, I donít remember.
Now thereís Secret Service protection. But Iíve done it for many, many
years. I donít recall and frankly, I donít see how it matters. Iíve had
hundreds and hundreds of town hall meetings, many as short a time ago as
yesterday. I communicate with people and they communicate with me very
A details-oriented wonk
McCain apparently isnít.
There are a lot of ways
you could go with his answer, but perhaps the most obvious is that this
was an answer given by a candidate who wasnít at his sharpest.
The real question had
nothing to do with how long ago McCain pumped his own gas, or what the
price of it was at the time. Of course that kind of thing doesnít really
matter in a policy discussion. But the question had nothing to do with
policy. It was whether John McCain felt our pain.
His answer is that he
doesnít feel our pain, which is a baffling answer for a presidential
candidate to give these days. Presidents, at least in recent years, have
been vetted as much by how much they could pawn themselves off as just
another guy. The first President Bush was roundly mocked for not knowing
what a grocery scanner was. John Kerry was mocked for ordering Swiss
cheese on his Philly cheese steak. This year, both Hillary Clinton and
Barack Obama drank beer on the campaign trail (Clinton, of course, used
hers to chase a shot of expensive sipping whisky).
John McCain? Well, almost
any answer he could have given would have been better than that it
Of course it matters. It
matters to millions of Americans trying to juggle rising gasoline prices
with rising food prices and debt that was pushing family budgets when
times were good.
Matters are made worse by
the fact that McCain pawned blame for his ignorance off on the Secret
Service. Instead of being just some rich guy who doesnít have to ask the
price before buying something, he also comes across as insulated from
the problems facing the same average Americans whose votes he hopes to
The problem is that the
national conversation over the high price of gasoline is not a new one.
In fact, itís one that has been going on for the last several years,
interrupted from time to time as prices slump due to decreased
wintertime demand. Back in 2005, in fact, there was even talk of
gasoline shortages and lines at gasoline stations after Hurricane
Katrina. Itís a conversation that apparently McCain wasnít participating
It was not a good answer
to a softball lobbed his way, and it could be that McCain was lulled
into a false sense of security by the fact that he was talking to a
reporter for a local paper Ė the Orange County Register Ė rather
than a national one like the Los Angeles Times. These days,
however, all media is global, something McCain should have remembered
especially since it was last brought home just a month ago when Hillary
Clinton referenced the RFK assassination to a small-town newspaper in
Whether this is McCainís
ďgrocery scannerĒ moment remains to be seen. Thatís not necessarily
whatís important here, anyway. The idea that a candidate be able to
relate to regular people on a level that regular people can understand
is highly overrated. Eight years of a president voters would have most
liked to have shared a beer with tell us that. Itís whether someone who
canít tell you how much gasoline costs can effectively do anything about
it. Will the McCain energy plan do anything for regular people? Itís not
like heíll ever find out through personal experience.
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