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Glass houses

Neither qualifies as an 'ordinary American,' so Obama and McCain should quit sniping about wealth.

August 23, 2008

Granted, Barack Obama was provoked. The John McCain campaign had been portraying the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as an elitist who was out of touch with that holy grail of politicians, the "ordinary American." But in overreacting to McCain's admission that he doesn't know how many houses he and his wife own, the Obama campaign is engaging in an inane example of the politics-as-usual that Obama decries.

"I guess if you think that being rich means that you've got to make $5 million and if you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong," Obama told supporters in Chester, Va.

Earth to Obama -- and McCain: Presidents and presidential candidates are not "ordinary Americans." If they aren't well-off before they are elected -- like Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan -- they can parlay their time in office into speaking fees and business deals. Bill Clinton was born in a humble town called Hope, but ex-President Clinton doesn't have to hope that his numbers will come up in the lottery.

In responding to the Obama campaign's gibes about the Republican candidate's housing arrangements, a McCain campaign spokesman asked: "Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii, and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?" Unfortunately, the answer is yes, but the McCain campaign is equally guilty of waging a phony class war.

Personal wealth is not a reliable predictor of a president's policies toward the poor and the middle class, as Roosevelt and Kennedy demonstrated. That fact is well known to the "ordinary Americans" who are on the receiving end of their would-be presidents' populist pandering. So both campaigns should stop their "oppo research" about how well-off the opposing candidate may be. Otherwise, brace for the attack ads about what sort of cars McCain and Obama drive.

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