Presidential campaign -- a conversation stopper

  • Article by: DAVID BANKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2012 - 9:15 PM
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Dilemmas

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"You don't know how it feels to be (insert real or perceived claim to victimhood here)."

There's a good chance you've been told that during a tense conversation at least once in your life.

Your first temptation might have been to thank the deliverer for relieving you of the burden of caring. (After all, if you don't know -- can't know, it would seem -- why bother?)

But odds are you persisted, because you were, in fact, making an effort to understand, using perceptions mustered from your life as lived. For whatever reason, the other person was seeking to discredit your empathy, in order to resist your side of the conversation.

This technique is especially convenient in politics, as we were reminded recently when a heretofore unfamous Democratic operative said that Ann Romney, wife of Mitt and stay-at-home mother of five, had "never worked a day in her life."

The implication was that neither the candidate nor his spousal sounding board is in touch with policy options sympathetic to women. The topic is quite relevant to the presidential campaign, but the jarring distillation and knee-jerk reverberation made clear that, for now at least, the fruitful part of the debate is over.

It's true that the Romneys don't have direct experience with the issues faced by mothers who must make ends meet in the workforce. Likewise, President Obama can't know exactly what it's like to build a small business, although everyone mentioned here does have sensory perception.

It's also safe to say that working moms and the proprietors of small businesses (along with their respective advocates) do not know precisely how it feels to raise taxes or cut services or both. Unless the economy improbably churns up a revenue bonanza, that's a responsibility that one Oval Office aspirant or another will be intimately acquainted with in the next four years.

So instead of fixating on what candidates don't know, we might focus on how they deploy the knowledge, experience and talents they possess, keeping in mind that the problems faced in office often are not the ones that rivet attention during campaigns.

Disagree? Well, you don't know how it feels to be afflicted with the dream of minimally politicized leadership.

Or maybe you do.

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David Banks is the Star Tribune's commentary editor.

 

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