Recently McCain was asked how many houses he and his wife Cindy own. McCain answered that he did not know. It was latter determined that he owns at least four (perhaps seven-different numbers have been presented). Naturally enough, Obama used this to attack McCain. McCain’s minions, in turn, struck back at Obama by pointing out that while he owns one house, it is a multi-million dollar house.Thus, begun has the House War.
This situation does raise various issues and concerns.
One concern is that McCain does not know how many houses he owns. On one hand, this seems to put him in a negative light. Perhaps he has so many houses that he cannot keep track. This could make him appear as a wealthy elitist who is out of touch with the problems faced by many Americans. Perhaps he simply cannot remember things like that. This is problematic because a President should be able to remember such things. Not knowing how many DVDs or socks you own is one thing. Not knowing how many houses is a bit odd. Of course, the question was about how many houses he and his wife own. Since she is also extremely wealthy, she might own various investment properties that he has not kept track of.
Switching to the issue the candidates have been sparring over, the issue seems to be weather a wealthy person can be in touch with the current economic woes. As Obama has pointed out, McCain has claimed that the foundations of the economy are stable and his former economic adviser claimed that Americans are whining about economic woes that are in their minds. As Obama claims to see it, McCain is out of touch with the economic situation of most Americans. As noted above, McCain’s people counter that Obama is also a millionaire and, unlike McCain, concerned about arugula.
Obviously, neither candidate is experiencing the sort of woes that many Americans are facing. Obama can claim to be somewhat closer-he has but one home and he and his wife have less wealth than McCain and his wife (a multimillionaire in her own right). However, to say that Obama is experiencing our pain would be quite a stretch.
Of course, it is possible for a person to have empathy for the problems of others and understand them, even if he is not experiencing them. This might be due to past experiences. For example, as a professor I have empathy for my students because I was once a student. I can look back on my own experiences and this can enable me to be in touch with their problems. Perhaps McCain and Obama can look back at their own pasts and thus feel the pain of those who are not millionaires.Of course, they would need to show that they had such experiences and that these create a link between them and those who are now less fortunate.
This might also be due to a general capacity for sympathy or empathy. For example, I’ve never been homeless but I have the capacity to feel bad for those who have lost their homes. So, perhaps Obama and McCain can be in touch with those who are less fortunate because they have the capacity for sympathy. Naturally, they would need to show that they have not lost this capacity due to the insulating effect of great wealth.
It also might arise from a sort of professional concern. For example, a doctor who has never had cancer would be concerned for a cancer patient because it is her job. So, perhaps Obama and McCain can be in touch with the people in a professional way. As with a doctor, this would be shown by exhibiting concern and taking steps to solve the problem/treat the illness.
A third concern, one raised long ago by Thoreau and Emma Goldman, is that wealthy individuals are sold to the institutions that make them rich and that politicians serve their own needs or the needs of the rich. While McCain has been seen as a maverick, he is a maverick that lives in a gold plated stable. While Obama is cast as a liberal, he is a liberal who lives in a mansion. As such, there is the concern that both will serve the interests of the wealthy over the good of the people.
Of course, one reply is that the President should be a successful person. Given that money is the main measure of success in America, someone who cannot make vast sums of money could be seen as unsuitable for the job. After all, if a person cannot be a private success, how can he be a success as President?
That said, perhaps it is the focus on money and wealthy that has lead us to trouble. Just because a person has achieved financial success does not mean that he is smart, good, or a capable leader. It mainly just means that he has money. There is also the concern that wealth makes a person suspect. If a person were truly good, she would be using the wealth to do good. Also, wealth is often accumulated via questionable means.
How will the House War play out? No doubt McCain and Obama will snipe back and forth for a while. However, the objective fact of the matter is that both men are wealthy. Obama does own one house, but it is worth many times what my house is worth. He also made about $4 million last year. As such, both candidates are correct: his opponent is a wealthy man who is well insulated from the experiences of most Americans.