When I saw a video of Hillary Clinton downing a shot of Crown Royal whiskey in Bronko's Restaurant and Lounge in Crown Point, Ind., on Saturday night, I was delighted to see that she has finally learned what campaigning for president is all about.
Last week, Barack Obama went to a private fundraiser in San Francisco and made some semi-coherent remarks about how people in small towns "get bitter" and "cling" to "guns or religion."
Clinton blasted Obama for being "elitist and out of touch."
"I was taken aback by the demeaning remarks Sen. Obama made about people in small-town America," Clinton said.
But Clinton's statement was not as important as her downing that shot of whiskey.
Presidential campaigning is about image making, and there is no better image than being a man (or woman) of the people.
Who is actually less elitist or more in touch with average Americans makes little difference.
I am not sure that Hillary Clinton of Wellesley College and Yale Law School feels the pain of ordinary people any more keenly than Barack Obama of Columbia University and Harvard Law School.
They are both lawyers who are married to lawyers. They are both millionaires. They both live in very nice houses. Wolves have not gathered at their doors in a long time.
But while Americans place the office of the presidency on a pedestal and demand (though they do not always receive) higher standards from our presidents, we also demand that they be like us.
In 1988, when George H.W. Bush was portrayed as a preppie wimp, he changed his image by drinking beer and pitching horseshoes in public. (After he was elected, he returned to martinis and golf.)
Bill Clinton's famous "Man From Hope" video that debuted at the Democratic convention in 1992 was designed to emphasize his small-town, man-of-the-people roots. His polling had identified a problem: Too many people associated him with Georgetown, Oxford and Yale Law School. So we also learned of Clinton's love for Big Macs and that he put AstroTurf in the back of his pickup truck as a youth. He was a regular guy. (Maybe a little too regular, as it turned out.)
Bob Dole, who grew up in rural Russell, Kan., often talked about how his father wore "overalls for 42 years" and how his family lived in the basement of their house during the Depression so they could rent out the top floors. Dole rarely, if ever, talked about the very nice condos he owned at the Watergate complex in Washington and in Florida or the fact that he was a millionaire.
And why should he? Deep down, the public knows that virtually all the people who run for president are wealthy and live an elite lifestyle, no matter how they grew up.
What is important is their image.
Which is why the whiskey that Hillary threw back could be the Shot Heard Round the World if handled right.
If I were her campaign manager, I would be making the ad already:
Video: Barack Obama in a tuxedo at a fat-cat fundraiser.
Audio: "Barack Obama drinks Chateau D'Yquem and eats artisanal cheeses."
Video: Hillary Clinton throws back a whiskey at Bronko's Restaurant.
Audio: "Hillary Clinton knows how to drink like a real American!"
Video: Clinton slams her shot glass on the bar and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.
Audio: "I'm Hillary Clinton and I approve this ad. I also approve Jell-O shots."
Video: Clinton grins and motions to the bartender for another.
Audio: "Hillary Clinton. She drinks like you do."
Phony? Misleading? Unfair?
Hey, this is politics. Those words don't even exist.