Guess Who's Not Coming to Dinner?

By John Latta
Executive Editor
[email protected]

Who’s running this country?

Do we really know the people at the helm? We see and hear them on television, we read about them, see photographs, read gossip and listen in the cab to views about them, rational and insane, on talk radio. But do we really have any idea whether we’d like them if they were our neighbors or if we sat next to them at a ball game?

We get most of what we know about President Bush and his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry from spokespeople, advisers, consultants, analysts, spin doctors, “public relations people” and of course lawyers, reporters, talk show hosts and late night comedians. And we all know each and every one of those intermediaries has an agenda, something to sell, the need to spin, an angle or a view through different-colored glasses.

But what if we got to know the candidates and what they are really like and really think? Abraham Lincoln said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” That “great point” is now constantly lost in the shuffle while candidates’ handlers bring us “their facts.”

The people in charge of America are very isolated from the everyday American, lost to us behind closed doors, tinted glass and armies of staff. How is the everyday American supposed to really get to know them? If polls say the American public wants a leader who is tall, dark, handsome, short, fat, thin, bald, brunette, blue-eyed, left handed and a poor sleeper who hates beets, then all those people who are filters “doctoring” the candidates’ image will provide us with one. We’ve all seen candidates from rich backgrounds mingling with us ordinary people and trying to look comfortable.

We have an image, packaged and sold to us like soap powder or toothpaste. Surely no one thinks that (think of a mega movie star) is really like all his/her publicity? Think of all the people in public life you’d say you either “loved” or “hated,” then realize you’ve never met any of them. Someone else has shaped your reaction. And there is a monster out there working hard to shape your response to the next crop of leaders up for election. As we fight back, maybe the best way to cut through all the doctored, altered and managed information and get to the real guy is to simply realize we are at the end of a long chain of filters. Spin, misinformation and disinformation are nowhere near as effective when you know what is being done to you.

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The answer, I think, is to have President Bush and Senator Kerry meet us one morning at a freight yard. Different yards, we’ll do them one at a time. We’ll have coffee and donuts ready, and they can climb in and ride along until the end of the day when we pull into another truckstop and go in for dinner, maybe meat loaf and sweet tea with some apple pie.

You’d know those guys pretty well by the time dinner was done, right? You’d know what they really like to listen to on the radio, whether their socks are stinky if they took their shoes off, what sort of jokes they like to tell or listen to, whether they are at ease with your fellow drivers, some of their bad habits, if they have too high an opinion of themselves, if they are decisive, whether you’d like them on your side in a fight and if they spit out the window.

And, tell the truth, how much would you like for it to work the other way? Between you and the president and the presidential challenger there are also all kinds of filters, enough to make you wonder what they really think about you. Who is standing in for you and letting the candidates know who you are and what you think, feel, want and need as everyday American truckers?

Just imagine, you pull out, roll through the gears, get to cruising speed, then turn and say, “Mr. President/Senator, there’s a few things I need to straighten you out on because I don’t think you know diddedly-squat about the life of a long-haul truck driver.”