The 2008 Presidential campaign has inspired an incessant rhetoric regarding the American middle class. From the beginning, the McCain/Palin camp has endeavored to paint Barack Obama as an elitist who does not understand everyday, middle class Americans. While I tend not to agree with this illustration, I have begun to realize that it is Senator McCain and Governor Palin who really lack any ability to understand and react to the needs of middle class Americans.
Traveling across America in the “Straight Talk Express” bus, Senator McCain and Governor Palin have expressed their desire to talk directly to the American people on countless occasions. In her closing statements of the October 2 vice presidential debate, Governor Palin stated, “I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they’ve just heard. I’d rather be able to just speak to the American people.” Between the campaign’s blatant obsession with “straight talk”, an unbiased moderator and the opportunity to speak to 70 million Americans directly, seemingly, Thursday’s debate would have been the perfect opportunity for Governor Palin to tell her tale.
I was confused, then, as to why Governor Palin opted to deliberately ignore certain questions. The docket of questions assembled for any debate are designed to get at the heart of the issues and to explore concerns that many people may have. Of course, Governor Palin opted to excuse her decision to avoid certain questions with a return to everyday Americans, “And I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.”
After 26 years in Washington, Senator McCain’s ability to avoid unwanted questions has been well-honed. And thus, in true “straight talk” style, McCain happily inserted visions of energy independence and jokes about Tom Brokaw being the next Secretary of the Treasury in moments of discomfort. When a gentleman asked how retired people and others with fixed incomes might survive the financial crisis, McCain took the opportunity to explain the intricacies of his plan for energy independence.
Two questions later, another gentleman was curious about what the bailout package will do for him, and other middle class Americans. Instead of answering the question, McCain made reference to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and didn’t miss the opportunity to condescendingly suggest to the questioner, “I’ll bet you, you may never even have heard of them before this crisis.” He then attempted to develop the connection between Senator Obama, his voting record, and the two mortgage organizations, completely failing to answer the question.
The first portion of Senator Obama’s response focused on explaining what exactly the bailout package will do for people feeling the crunch. Senator McCain has been so proud of the fact that he suspended his campaign and returned to Washington to address the fiscal crisis. Of course, with no specific experience in economics, we can interpret this as nothing more than a political maneuver; all the same, Senator McCain still had access to the same information, thus leaving him no excuse to avoid the question. And yet, he did.
When the conversation turned to healthcare, Senator McCain became noticeably fixated on the idea that Obama’s healthcare plan calls for fining parents who opt out of healthcare for their children. When you consider the fact that the McCain healthcare plan provides taxpayers with a $5,000 credit for a commodity that costs at least $12,000, it makes perfect sense that such a concerted effort was made to shift the focus to Obama.
At the close of the debate, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain joined their husbands on stage to exchange decencies and greet the public. The minutes to follow said more about Senator McCain and his wife than any amount of question deflection ever could. Barack and Michelle Obama made their way through the crowd, shaking hands, taking pictures and smiling. Meanwhile, Cindy McCain trailed behind her husband with her hands behind her back, nodding and exposing the occasional smile. She almost seemed too bothered to talk to anyone. Minutes later, the McCains had disappeared while the Obamas were still talking to members of the audience.
I am not a body language expert, nor can I imagine how tired the McCains and the Obamas must be after months on the campaign trail. Campaigning is brutal, but elections are won by talking to people about the issues that matter.
When Senator McCain and Governor Palin stand on stage and speak about working across the aisle, allude to patriotism and good American values it is tempting to believe that their priority is the middle class. Why is it so convenient, then, to avoid the questions that matter most?
Sometimes the greatest indications of character come from what people opt not to say and do. Blatant refusals to answer questions, construing questions to provide convenient responses or walking off stage while the other candidate is still talking to voters all tell us more about Senator McCain and Governor Palin than any stump speech they might pull from the “Straight Talk Express”.