From the "Politicians—they're just like us!" file today, we have something seemingly aimed straight at one of my pet peeves, the habit of Blue Collar Chic among politicians (and to an even greater extent, certain bigshot media figures). Esquire magazine asked John Boehner to "endorse" something, and what he came up with was "breakfast at a diner," which he says he has "most mornings when I'm in Washington." You may have thought the Speaker was a merlot-sipping, golf-playing gent who had risen above his hardscrabble roots. Au contraire!
I sit at the counter in jeans and a ballcap. Order eggs, and sometimes sausage, but never on Fridays. (And never the bacon. My diner makes lousy bacon. I don't know why.) I'm there maybe 15, 20 minutes.
It's pretty much the same thing on the road. I'm always looking for new diners, and when I find one I like, I stick with it.
It's an anchor to my day, a way to feel like I'm home in Ohio no matter where I am. That's why I endorse breakfast at a diner.
Mr. Speaker, if you're eating eggs and sausage at a greasy spoon every morning, legislation isn't the only thing getting clogged. But how wonderful to know that just like ordinary folks, you wear "jeans and a ballcap"! Since you presumably go to work after this breakfast, do you get dressed in your jeans and ballcap, then go back home and change into the suit you'll wear the rest of the day on Capitol Hill? Why not just put on the suit, get the breakfast, and then proceed to work? Is the costume change really necessary?
I realize I'm making too much of this. And of course, when a magazine asks you to do something like this, you'll be conscious of the image you're projecting. Unlike a political "endorsement," this endorsement is not about explaining to readers the wonders of breakfast at a diner, but telling them who you are, and if Boehner had endorsed an earthy yet whimsical Chateau Latour, he would have been mocked for an entirely different reason. But I find the efforts of politicians to convince us they're just ordinary joes so insufferable, especially when it's this transparent.
It's only partly their fault, though. Every election season we're treated to an endless discussion about which candidate is more reg'lar and can do a better job relating to the common folk, without any explanation of what that has to do with their potential performance in office. Here's a little piece of the column I linked to above, when the question consuming some in the media, none more than Chris Matthews, was whether Barack Obama was too much of an effete swell to win the Pennsylvania primary over the (allegedly) slightly more down-to-earth Hillary Clinton. We knew he wasn't, because he committed the horrible sin of being a crappy bowler:
Every night at 5 and 7, Matthews acts like a psychic channeling the spirit of the working class. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, he insightfully informs his viewers, are just not the type to whom Joe Sixpack takes a liking: "Pennsylvania prefers a beefier sort to either of these people, Matthews claimed, "a more rustic, tougher sort than either of them." When neither Obama nor Clinton turned out to be particularly skilled bowlers, Matthews said gravely, "Maybe that tells you something about the Democratic party."
In the days since, he has returned to the alleged symbolic importance of Obama's lack of bowling skills so often, and with such a combination of glee and indignation, that you would have thought that before launching a gutter ball, Obama had donned a powdered wig, sipped from a snifter of brandy, then smacked Rocky Blier across the face with his riding crop. "This gets very ethnic," Matthews said at one point, a preface that no doubt made his producers whisper, "Oh God, please don't." He then went on, "But the fact that he's good at basketball doesn't surprise anybody, but the fact that he's that terrible at bowling does make you wonder." Makes you wonder what, exactly? Whether he would be a better president, were he a better bowler? No, what Matthews wonders is whether Obama can "woo more regular voters -- you know, the ones who actually do know how to bowl."
According to the Times Magazine article, Matthews makes a salary of $5 million a year. When it comes time to relax, he doesn't head to the Jersey shore, where the typical blue-collar Philadelphian might go to get some sea air. Instead, Matthews repairs to his $4.35 million house on Nantucket.
I don't mind that Chris Matthews has a house on Nantucket; maybe I would too, if I made as much money as him. And I don't care whether John Boehner prefers a fine wine to a downmarket beer. My problems with Boehner have nothing to do with his personal tastes in food and recreation. The thing about politicians is that they take positions and perform official actions that give great insight into whether and how much they care about regular people. That's the place to look if you want to know who they really are. You don't have to ask where they eat breakfast.