Richard W. Stevenson reports on the front page of today’s New York Times under the headline, “On the Tricky Terrain of Class, Contrasting Paths.” Here’s an excerpt that sums us up a lot about Obama and Romney in relation to class:
The contrasting images of the week could hardly have been more evocative.
There was Mr. Obama on Thursday at a carefully scouted location, the Kozy Corners diner in Oak Harbor, Ohio, downing a burger and fries and chatting with a group of working-class voters about pinochle and trips to Disney World. The next day, as he continued a campaign swing, he reminisced about a Greyhound-and-train trip he took around the country with his grandmother when he was 11, staying at Howard Johnson and getting a thrill from leaping into the motel pool and fetching ice from the ice machine.
And there was Mitt Romney on Thursday, roaring across Lake Winnipesaukee on a powerboat large enough to hold two dozen members of his family who had gathered for a weeklong vacation at his estate in New Hampshire. On Sunday, Mr. Romney will raise money among wealthy Republicans in the Hamptons, with his final stop a $75,000-per-couple dinner at the home of David Koch, the billionaire industrialist, who with his brother Charles has been among the leading patrons of the conservative movement.
Stevenson goes on to suggest that these images and the way the respective candidates spent the week are “vivid manifestation[s] of calculations made by both camps.”
Yes, I’m sure both campaigns have thought out the messaging of these appearances, though neither is talking explicitly about class. Indeed, Stevenson quotes David Alexrod, a senior advisor to Obama’s campaign, who is also seems to be trying to deflect any express discussion of class:
The viability of the middle class is not a class issue. It’s an American issue.
Stevenson’s story also reminds me of Obama’s ability not only to project “everyman,” but indeed to be “everyman” because of his modest upbringing. This is in spite of the extraordinarily distinctive–indeed, just plain extraordinary–person he is. And part of what makes Obama extraordinary is where he came from and what he has achieved out of that background. The story of Obama’s journey is, to my mind, as much one of class as it is one of race. I’m glad to see Obama “working” the class part of his personal narrative.
Of course, even though Obama was not a silver spoon baby, he is now a wealthy man, and as Stevenson points out, the Democrats are trying as hard as the Republicans to cultivate donations from the 1%. But Democratic strategist Bob Shrum focuses on the distinction between being rich on the one hand and being rich and out of touch on the other.
I’m glad Obama is tying hard to look “in touch.” It could make all the difference in what is shaping up to be a very tight election.
P.S. A few days after this post, Timothy Egan offered these thoughts on the events described above.