Who's More Red, White and Blue-Collar?

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Identifying with the common man has been a requisite in presidential elections for almost two centuries. But the stakes are especially high in a race largely defined by an economic crisis, and campaign experts say the candidates have gone especially far in their appeals.

In the past six weeks, Clinton hammered down a shot of Crown Royal whiskey -- not necessarily the first choice of the workingman -- and chased it with a beer. Obama visited a Pennsylvania sports bar and sampled a Yuengling after making sure it wasn't "some designer beer." Clinton told stories about learning to shoot behind the cottage her grandfather built. Obama went bowling....

Presidential candidates have strived relentlessly downward in social class ever since the 1840s, when William Henry Harrison created what historians now call the "common-man myth." While most of his peers campaigned from their estates, Harrison traveled the country and spoke under a banner depicting a log cabin and a bottle of hard cider. He won the presidency by a landslide, and his campaign model became the new standard.

With few exemptions since, American voters have picked presidents who mimic the public's most ordinary habits -- men who regularly mention drinking, or NASCAR, or old-fashioned farm work. Ronald Reagan liked to be photographed chopping wood. George H.W. Bush spoke longingly about pork rinds. Bill Clinton stopped at McDonald's while on the campaign trial, even when it required a side trip. And George W. Bush is a champion brush-clearer.

Disruption to this role-playing occurs only when a politician makes a blunder so glaring that it reveals him to be a jester in costume. Gerald Ford bit into a tamale without husking it while campaigning on the Mexican border in 1976, and he extolled its deliciousness before realizing he had consumed the wrapper. John F. Kerry ordered a cheesesteak at Pat's in Philadelphia and asked for Swiss cheese, even though Pat's had specialized in subs with Cheez Whiz for 70 years.

In 1994, George W. Bush arranged for several media outlets to follow him on the first day of dove-hunting season. He fired his gun, killed a bird and looked like a real woodsman until officials identified his kill as a Texas songbird, a protected species easily distinguished from doves by experienced hunters. Bush paid a $130 fine.

"If you can look like the common man and make your opponent appear out of touch, you've pretty much won the election," said Richard Shenkman, a George Mason professor who has written several books about presidential campaigning. "The American people, given the choice between reality and the myth, almost always pick the myth. . . . We tell ourselves their average day is just like ours."

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Randll Reese Besch - 5/9/2008

I could never be a sucessful politician. I don't sound like your 'average Joe' so I would be considered an Ivy Leager even if I told them I was not. Then I would be considered a pretender no matter how up front I was. I am not religious,am single,do poorly with people in general but I would want my platform of ideas to be at the forefront. That is last instead of first priority.In our plastic personality first culture I would be a failure even if I would do things that would help the average voter. Instead I would need to fake that I am a friend. That whole scenario is perverted and shows what happens with our poorly functioning out of control corrupt gov't starts with lies. Just because they want to hear them won't improve their situation.
The way our election system is you must either have millions of dollars or can raise such to run. There is nothing average or common about that.
What is average and common? Hypocracy,infidelity,malfeasance,corruption and many other aspects of the ugly human. But that isn't what is spoken of except as things the other guy/gal does and of the past leaders,not themselves. Truth will get you booted. A sorry state of our affairs.