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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 answer:


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 effectively.Ē


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 doesnít matter.


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 court.


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 in.


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 South Dakota.


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.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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