John Edwards got ambuscaded the other day when Don Imus asked if he knew the price of milk and other grocery-store comestibles. Edwards fluffed the question, of course, which placed him in a league with just about every male shopper on the face of the earth, and every office-holder whose staff wasn’t bright enough to anticipate the obvious question.
Pop quizzes are hardy perennials in national politics, and they’re always designed to expose would-be officeholders as clueless fools. President Bush got hammered four years ago when a Boston reporter asked him to name the leaders of four nations. Edwards became the latest victim of the dairy-section equivalent of "The Price Is Right." I don’t think the food-cost question serves as a decent surrogate for understanding how The Little People live. The quiz is a relic of pre-scanner days, when people paid more actual attention to such things as the price of milk (which goes for just less than three bucks a gallon at our local store).
It’s good and mete to determine how well-connected politicians are with the people they purport to represent, but reporters need to update their avenue of attack. It’s time to jettison these pre-modern, pre-scanner lines of interrogation and find something a little more revealing. Here are some proposed questions:
• What’s the name of your favorite cashier at the grocery store?
• Do you know the name of any local gas-station attendants?
• Or, if you’re really wealthy: Do you know the names of your housemaid’s children?
After all, the real point of “connection” is not to talk about money, but to talk about people’s actual lives. If you know your cashier, chances are you know something about the politics of the grocery store, the vagaries of the check-out employee’s personal life, and maybe even a thing or two about the piquant tragedies and fleeting triumphs one experiences at home and work.
So let’s get rid of the grocery-store test — and replace it with the grocery-store employee test.
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