Sunday, February 6, 2011

Walk a day

[Note: This post contains one of the lesser-known but quintessential Reagan stories. It was originally published on Feb 3, 2007. I'm reposting it today to mark the centeniary of Reagan's birth.]

Back in the early 1980s, the Age of Reagan Ascendant, some wealthy enthusiast endowed the Ronald Reagan Chair of Broadcasting at the University of Alabama . (Oh, how I teased my friends at UA over that one.) There was quite a bit of hoopla: The first holder of the position gave an inaugural lecture to the public, and Himself came down from Washington (or back from California, whichever) to give the enterprise his blessing.

As I recall long-time p3 friend Doctor TV telling me the story: There were photo ops aplenty, one of them involving a trip to a local McDonald's for lunch. In walked the Leader of the Free World, with his entourage, followed by a gaggle of reporters and photographers. Whether briefed ahead of time or by simply listening to the fellow in line in front of him, Reagan successfully ordered a Big Mac, fries, and Coke.

The minimum wage-earning teenager behind the counter handed the Chief Executive his tray of food--and then watched in bewilderment as the latter smiled, nodded, and walked away without paying.

Reagan's handlers immediately slipped up to the counter and gave the kid his money. Someone close to the presidential visit later remarked that, by that time, Reagan hadn't had to carry cash on him in years. This, from the man who gave the phrase "welfare queen" to the American political lexicon.

I bring that story up so I can mention this one:
Last Friday and Saturday, the eight Democrats who have in varying degrees announced their intention to run for president came before the executive board of the most powerful and strategic organization in American liberalism -- the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). No sooner had this first of countless candidate cattle calls been completed than the SEIU's president, Andy Stern, flew off to Iowa for several days, followed by a couple of more days in New Hampshire.

No, Stern insists, he's not running for president. Rather, he's setting in motion an SEIU program called "Walk a Day in My Shoes," in which the union will encourage (or hector) the candidates to spend a day with a working-class family in one of the first four states (Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina) to hold primary and caucus elections in 2008.
Here's a cherished but impractical opinion I've held for for some time: Anyone, regardless of party, planning to run for federal office should first have to endure something like what Barbara Ehrenreich did for the writing of Nickled and Dimed: Give them $40 and one change of clothes, drop them in a town a long way from home, and let them find work, food, and shelter for a month on their own, without breaking the law or trading on their name or connections.

If they make it through that, then we can talk about forming an exploratory committee.


Torrid said...

Morgan Spurlock for President then! The very first episode of 30 Days featured Spurlock (director of Super Size Me) and his Lake Owesgo-born girlfriend spending a month trying to live on minimum wage.

Great idea. Nice name drop of Ehrenreich, someone who was never as famous as Nader but did more to affect poverty policy than Nader ever did for auto policy.

Nothstine said...

Fair enough: Morgan Spurlock for President, and Mel Brooks for Vice President.