Trouble with Old People | April 2018

The Common Touch

written by Steve Van Auken, Illustrations by Ted Mallison


If recent elections prove anything, it is that voters crave authenticity. We support the candidate we think we would like to have a beer with. Not just the one who shares our views about how to respond to imbalances in our commodities trade with Latvia.

We want our candidates to have the common touch. They should be men and women of the people. But this can pose a problem for the older politician. Like older people in general, older politicians tend to become set in their ways. And their “ways” have been shaped by years of sitting around in sub-committee rooms in cavernous public buildings, trying to appear interested in whoever happens to be speaking at the moment, while desperately needing to go to the bathroom.

Not a prescription for keeping it real. Over time, politicians tend to lose touch with the people they serve. And yet the common touch is exactly what they want to be able to show at election time.

Some people point to Hillary Clinton’s campaign as an example of one that failed to connect with average voters. They cite bad advice given to her from an out-of-touch crew of election advisers. But in my opinion the events that lead to her losing the election actually began when she was eleven years old.

It was then, on a crisp fall day, that her father, Hugh Rodham, first took Hillary’s brother deer-hunting. He invited Hillary to go too. But the record shows that she declined. “No thanks, Daddy,” she reportedly said. “I think I’ll just stay home and play jacks and Parcheesi with my friends. And finish reading this policy paper about how to re-balance Illinois agricultural over-dependence on the beef industry. But thanks for asking.”

If only she had gone. She might have developed a lifelong passion for hunting. It could have meant a lot to some voters. It could have helped them to see how Hillary was connected to their own lives. It is not hard to imagine one typical American man in a voting booth last year, thinking it all through.

“Ordinarily I’d never vote for one of these elitist Democrats who have nothing but contempt for everything I hold dear. Ordinarily it would just be a no-brainer for me to vote for that New York City billionaire who is just like me.

“But Man! When Hillary walked on that stage for that third debate, dressed head-to-toe in camo! That really got me thinking. And then just last week, her car hit that deer. By God, didn’t she just step right out of her limo and pull her sheath-knife out of the glove box and gut that deer right there in the median. Sure she was on a tight schedule. But she knew if she waited, the flies would have got to it and spoiled the meat. And sure, she got a little blood on her, and Tim Kaine threw up. But that’s the kind of decisive leadership we need in this country. So, hell yeah! I’m with her.”

A little change in perspective can mean so much. It’s not just Democrats, either, who don’t understand how much they could help themselves by connecting better with the lives of regular Americans.

Consider Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate. McConnell is a master of using the Senate’s arcane rules to enforce his will on the legislative process. To his political enemies, he is a man without a soul, completely out of touch with the true needs of the people he represents, a shill for the billionaire Republican donors. The fact that he looks like an owl with a secret sorrow does not help his cause, either.

But his friends say there is so much more to Mitch McConnell. They say that he has just been too reluctant to let his “fun” side show. Very few voters know, for example, that in his spare time McConnell is one of the founding members of “Funk the Senate,” a George Clinton-Parliament Funkadelic tribute band. They practice in secret in a dingy sub-basement of the Senate Office Building. Even if you look at one of the very rare photos of the group in action, you might not notice McConnell. He stands right behind Orrin Hatch, who sings lead on most FTS songs. McConnell handles bass, and he handles it well, according to a lobbyist for Koch Industries who spoke on condition of anonymity.

McConnell can be hard to identify on-stage, swathed as he is in his trademark floor-length white fur coat and broad-brimmed hat with ostrich feathers. But he is there, right beside the drum kit, laying down the funky groove and getting another day’s worth of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi out of his system.

Mitch McConnell is a work-hard, play-hard kind of guy, like so many Americans. Why not share some of his behind-the-scenes life with the rest of us? Talk about your change of perspective. If only McConnell would wear his fur and feathers the next time he takes to the Senate floor to inform us that Democrats are “playing politics with our nation’s security,” what a difference it could make.