Give Joe His Sixpack
You could make a strong argument that the presidential candidate with the greatest influence on the current tone of the election is the one who is no longer running. Hillary Clinton, despite her faults, courted the middle class more effectively than either ticket is currently doing. Don’t get me wrong—both the Republicans and the Democrats are trying their hardest to secure the market on middle class voters. Both campaigns are doing a lot to attract the middle class, but neither campaign is truly engaging the middle class and telling them what they need to hear.
McCain proved just how mavericky he can be when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Back in August, that choice appeared to be extremely astute. Obama had just chosen Biden as his running mate, and the Palin choice was clearly intended to cut into Biden’s draw on the middle class voting block. The secondary purpose for Sarah Palin was to energize the conservative base, some members of which were reticent to actively support McCain and his truly bipartisan record.
There were two results, neither of which was entirely expected. First, Palin excited the base and solidified McCain’s grasp on conservatives to an extent that has been compared to Reagan’s administration and the Republican Revolution of ’94. On the other hand, Palin has had a much more marginal draw with moderates than I’m sure the McCain campaign had hoped she would.
In David Brooks’ column, he astutely summarized Palin’s usefulness thus [www.nytimes.com]: “Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable. Her convention and debate performances were impressive. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin.” In my opinion, Sarah Palin has tried too hard to remind everyone that she’s average. While she is arguably the most “average” of all the candidates (in terms of education, family roots, and income), her incessant appeal to Joe Sixpack and hockey moms was tiresome after the first or second use.
The main reason Obama/Biden are absolutely crushing McCain/Palin in the polls is that they have convinced the middle class that they are best prepared to deal with the economic crisis. Obvious electioneering aside, while Obama was talking about how he was going to handle the economic failure two weeks ago, McCain actually went to Washington and tried to do something about it. Yet, in an era of pop tarts and TV dinners, that is simply not enough. You have to tell the public what you are going to do, then do it. Or, at least just tell them what you are going to do.
John McCain finally made the smart move and announced [thehill.com] a real plan that is aimed directly at the middle class and their economic interests. This is the first real effort the Republicans have made, and a much better effort than the Democrats have made, at actually engaging the middle class and burning the cue-cards. As Christopher Hitchens recently noted [www.slate.com], neither candidate has actually engaged the middle class and told them what they need to hear. It has been an endless source of frustration for me to see both Presidential candidates stick to their talking points even after being pressed for a real answer by Jim Lehrer and Tom Brokaw (who are both fantastic moderators).
As we approach the final presidential debate before the election, both candidates have a final chance to court Joe Sixpack. Neither candidate can win the election without him. While it seems unlikely that John McCain and Sarah Palin will be able to turn their campaign around now, the only chance they have to do so is by convincing the middle-class that Republicans have the nitty-gritty answers. John McCain needs to come out swinging, and give us a glimpse of the fighter he once was. Sarah Palin needs to focus on energizing the conservatives and focus less on reminding everyone how average she is.
- Shant Boyajian