Jewish World Review March 3, 2003 / 29 Adar I, 5763
This presidential bid has edge with humble upbringing
"Oh, did they change the Constitution?" she said. "Is being a dork now a qualification for President?"
How very droll, I said. Listen to this. This is from a Dick Gephardt speech: "I am the son of a truck driver." This is from a John Edwards speech: "We believe that the son of a mill worker can beat the son of a former President." Joe Lieberman tells the crowds that his father ran a liquor store, and Al Sharpton tells people he is the son of a welfare mother.
"Is there a point to all this, or is this one of your columns?" my sister asked.
The point is this, I said. What did our father do for a living his entire life?
"Lie on the couch and snore?" she said.
What did he do for a living? I asked. Not what did he do in his leisure time.
"Our father, as you well know, drove a truck his entire life," she said.
Exactly! I said. Which means I can claim the same lower-class origins as the Democratic candidates! Which means I could run for President!
"I don't think the other candidates for President ever ate an entire rubber lizard," my sister said.
That was in the second grade! I said. That is ancient history.
"Which is what Mike Dukakis said about Willie Horton," my sister pointed out. "Besides, did the other candidates wet their sleeping bags during camping trips?"
One trip, I said. And I swear there was a bear outside the tent trying to get in.
"Who cares what our father did?" my sister asked. "Why does that qualify anyone to become President?"
An excellent point, I said. But as the nation grew, as voting rights were extended to more people and the "common man" began having real political power, politicians decided that humble origins were an advantage.
In the Presidential election of 1840, incumbent Martin Van Buren, a Democrat, was pitted against William Henry Harrison, a Whig. Before 1840, campaigns emphasized American symbols. But Harrison's forces were out to create a good-old-boy image: They used the symbols of the log cabin and cider barrel to make Harrison appear to be a backwoodsman.
In reality, Harrison lived in a Georgian mansion. He owned 2,000 lush acres farmed by tenant farmers. And he had been born not in a log cabin but in Virginia's beautiful Berkeley Plantation. He was the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence and no rustic. And the Democrats exposed him as a fraud.
"But Harrison won anyway," my sister said.
Exactly! I said. Americans love a good fraud!
"But he got his," my sister said.
Well, yes. On March 4, 1841, Harrison gave one of the longest inaugural addresses ever delivered and promised not to run for a second term. One month later, he died.
"At least he kept his promise," my sister said.
We are getting away from the point, I said. The point is that anyone with lower-class origins, anyone whose father drove a truck, for instance, is now fully qualified to run the nation.
"Which means I could run for President, too," my sister said.
Well, yes. I guess that's true, I said.
"Excellent," she said. "I already have my campaign motto: 'Vote for Me, I Never Ate a Rubber Lizard.'"
I don't think you are taking this election seriously, I said.
"Why should I be the only one?" she said.
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