The image problems of leadership

In an Op/Ed piece in The New York Times called “Working and Women,” Frank Bruni adds his two cents about Hilary Rosen’s super gaffe about Ann Romney being a stay-at-home mom and never working.  There’s been a ton of commentary about this, mostly about how stay-at-home moms deserve more respect.  Bruni talks about his own stay-at-home mom, and I feel great love and respect for my stay-at-home mom, who ultimately needed to become a working mom because the family’s financial situation demanded it.

For me, this whole debacle comes down to something much more deeply rooted: class and socioeconomic status (SES).  Bruni acknowledges this in his op/ed, but he doesn’t spend enough time digging into the issue.  Let’s face it, Romney and Obama don’t have much clout with the middle class.  Both are hopelessly aloof when it comes to people outside of their privileged worlds, and they and their families are easy targets for anyone looking to paint them as inaccessible, misinformed, or out of touch.  The diversity of the “American experience” has intensified over the last century, but our leadership has not shifted as quickly.  Privileged men, and now some women, still make their way to the top of the food chain, while the “99%” largely feel stuck in the mire.  Whether that’s entirely true is difficult to tell, but a person’s perception is her/his reality, and that reality does not help either candidate’s relationship to the majority of the US population.  Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney also come from a liberal, educated viewpoint that places value on certain kinds of experiences and ways of being.  This is a problem, and Bruni scratches at that as well.

US elections have been and will continue to be unfortunate reminders for the majority of the American people that leadership comes from privilege.  The mythology of the American Dream tells us that upward social mobility is achievable in the American meritocracy, as long as we work hard enough.  Lately, that’s not been the case for a large majority of the electorate.  Fewer and fewer people believe the myth, and probably with good reason.  Until a leader comes along who really acknowledges that in an honest way, the image problems will continue and comments like Hilary Rosen’s will continue as well.