Leaders losing the race to become ‘ordinary’

By Jordan Harp

Whether it is Joe Sixpack, Joe the Plumber, or lunch bucket Joe, in today’s politics it is all about being, or appearing, like a regular Joe, or Jane, for that matter.

Barack Obama has been working to shed the image of rock star or some sort of political messiah for some time now after realizing that most Americans are a bit put off by political figures acting like that. Speeches in front of 200,000 Germans and amid a Greek temple backdrop have certainly added fodder to the opposition’s charges of elitist and out of touch, along with his “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” nonsense.

Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, has presented himself as the hardscrabble man from the coal-mining town of Scranton, Pennsylvania. We have all heard about the tragic accident that killed his wife and son after he was first elected to the senate. And how he commutes back and forth from his home to the senate and how he is a “lunch bucket Democrat,” one who understands the middle and lower class.

John McCain is someone who has served his country during a war and spent five years in hell while there. He is the maverick who does not run with the Washington elite. His new best friend is Joe the Plumber, who represents the working Americans McCain represents. His running mate, meanwhile, is the queen of the common folk. She is a moose-burger eating, NRA card carrying, small town girl from Wasilla, Alaska. With five kids and a snowmobile racing husband, she is supposedly the very opposite of elitist, and therefore, someone who understands everything about the ordinary American.

It is a curious expectation that voters have of their elected officials to be like them. “Common,” as we like to say. We hear from campaigns that their candidate is the type of person you would like to have a beer with. That was what George Bush was. The anti-intellectual cowboy from Texas whom we could all relate to, unlike his opponents, Al Gore, who was stiff and patronizing, and John Kerry, who was dull and married to a Heinz.

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In a certain respect it is a sign of a good democracy. We expect a certain level of respect and empathy from our elected representatives. In authoritarian governments, leaders want nothing to do with common people and only the elites can govern. The government is how people get away from common people. Yet in our country’s political arena, we have people with degrees from Ivy League schools, law schools, US senators, governors, a son and grandson of admirals, and people worth millions of dollars doing everything they can to show that they are just like one of us.

However this anti-elitism has gone too far in our country today. Today the term elitism is taken to mean out of touch, or even discriminatory. Backwards policies such as affirmative action or progressive taxation are instituted in order to “level the playing field” and be more egalitarian, when instead all they do is punish those who are successful.

With our politicians, we expect them to empathize with our plight, to feel the pain that we might be feeling with the economy suffering, lack of affordable health care, or a faltering public education system. We expect them to be common, and ordinary. After they have shown they are sufficiently common enough, we expect them to turn around and fix all these problems. We expect them to be quite unordinary, or in other words, elite.

It is a dissonance that doesn’t seem to make people uncomfortable. We expect our politicians to be these all-encompassing figures. Perhaps we should start being a little more uncomfortable with it.

For one, we should expect a certain level of elitism from our politicians. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being elite, and the term elitist itself should not be a negative term. There is something to be said about being elite, namely, that it probably means you are best to govern.

At the same time we should demand a certain level of egalitarianism from our politicians, yet we should not expect them to provide for us, nor should we let them punish those who are successful.

Remember what we entrust our representatives with, no less than the health and prosperity of our democracy. I don’t believe that we should entrust our government to anyone that claims to be common or ordinary.

Jordan is a junior in MCB and doesn’t really have anything to say down here this week.