George Will said recently that, “Americans want a common man to be president. But they also want an uncommon president.” By this he meant that we want our president to be someone who understands what life is like in America for the common man and the common family. However, we also want someone who is smarter and more capable than we are. I know I share that latter sentiment. I love my friends, but I don’t want any of them to be president. I’ve set the bar a little higher (sorry fellas).
This idea will be put to the test during this extraordinary presidential election. Over the last 18 months, watershed events have been followed by landmarks that have been succeeded by historical firsts. Last Friday (the timing of which can only be described as strategically brilliant) John McCain introduced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. This was a landmark event for the Republicans since Governor Palin became the first woman to run as a vice-presidential candidate in the party. But her inclusion is a historical first for another reason: never has someone so common, so blue collar, so working class, been a candidate on a major party’s presidential ticket. Maybe I’m jaded by over-exposure to Hillary Clinton or unimpressed having seen Geraldine Ferraro on the Democratic ticket in 1984, but I think Sarah Palin’s identification with these common and rural roots is almost as significant.
Jeff Foxworthy said that redneck just means a “glorious lack of sophistication” and we are all guilty of it at some point in our lives. Rednecks rejoice! Our candidate has arrived.
Parents have been telling their children since our nation’s independence that in America you can grow up to be anything you want—even the President. For two centuries women and blacks must have known this was a lie–until last week. We now know that any man or woman regardless of race color or creed can have an opportunity to run for president. But what of people from lower and middle class? Hasn’t it also been true that you had to have money to run for president? You had to come from the finest education? You needed to hob-knob with America’s elite, creating a network of power brokers and influence peddlers to propel you into the upper echelon of America’s political structure?
Many candidates were raised in modest circumstances, but their early drive and ambition begat success and opportunities not afforded to everyone. Even Barack Obama, who was raised modestly, was able to parlay his strengths and ambition into an education at Columbia and Harvard. Now THESE are presidential credentials and they opened the door to law firms and politically minded people who would help propel Senator Obama to where he is today.
So as the gender myth exploded on a stage in Dayton, Ohio, on Friday, August 29, 2008, so, too did the money myth. Governor Palin and her family represent the elimination of the last perceived barrier to access to political power in the United States. Educated at the University of Idaho (yawn), this “hockey-mom,” pageant queen, sports reporter and fisher-woman, married a man who is a member of US Steel Workers union and who works the oil fields in northern Alaska. This is hardly the Political A-team I’d pick to do combat with the likes of the Clintons or Bushes.
Does this fact mean anything important? Yes, two things, in fact—one certainty and one possibility. Certainly, any American child, even one from modest economic roots, should now be able to believe that there are no barriers to success in America, save those that are self-created. The possibility created by Governor Palin’s place on the ticket rests in what the Republicans do with this exciting fact. Can the GOP media marvels turn Sarah Palin into a greater identification between working class Americans and their party? Can Sarah Palin and her family attract the common American citizen by saying, without qualification, “vote for me. I am one of you. I GET it. I understand YOU.”
Then it will be up to the American voters to decide whether that inspires us or scares the hell out of us.