There’s a reason why so-called “Gotcha” questions are important in campaigns. It speaks to the dual nature of the office of the president as head of state as well as head of government.
This person, whoever he or she may be, is expected not only to be leader of the free world⎯to possess an omniscient view of the shifting sands of global developments⎯ but to be “one of us,” sprung from the masses and chosen by us to point the way forward. So when a member of the media asks if a candidate for this high office knows the price of a gallon of milk or gas, it’s just as critical to constructing the framework we use for assessing a potential leader as a question about the U.S. trade imbalance with China. Smart pols now verse themselves on the prices of typical consumer goods in case the dreaded question should ever arise.
Those who were around for the presidency of George H.W. Bush remember with a cringe his sense of wonderment the first time he saw a grocery store scanner in action. It was an inadvertent slip, but it was damaging because it added to the already-popular narrative that Bush was out of touch with the American people.
Mitt Romney has tried everything to appear as though he were an average American. He’s lost the tie on occasion, he sometimes wears plaid shirts, he sports khaki Dockers. He even purposefully mis-arranged one cliff of his trademark Brylcreemed hair sculpture.
All it took was one ten-thousand-dollar bet, though, to reinforce his card-carrying membership in the hated one percent. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head: “I know, I’ll bet the S.O.B. ten bucks. No, let’s make it $10,000! That’ll really prove my point.”
That the relative amounts made so little difference to him is exactly his problem. It was a mere throwaway line, but it was a revealing window to his soul. He’ll have a devil of a time neutralizing its effects.