Campaign riff: Hello! 'I'm the [son/daughter] of a [blue collar worker]'

Why presidential candidates are eager to let voters know that a father, mother, or grandfather worked a blue-collar job.

John Locher/AP
Hillary Rodham Clinton (r.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speak during the CNN Democratic presidential debate on Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas.

“Son/daughter/granddaughter of a [blue-collar worker]”: A candidate’s quick biographical shorthand to reassure audiences, “I’m not a snooty elitist; I’m just like you.”

On-message candidates who rely too much on the phrase inevitably get roundly mocked in the political press. But judging by how often the candidates continue to deploy it, they don’t care.

At last week’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton let it be known right away that she’s “the granddaughter of a factory worker.” In marked contrast to her 2008 campaign, she also has frequently talked about her father, Hugh Rodham, a small-business owner who “just believed that you had to work hard to make your way and do whatever you had to do to be successful and provided a good living for our family.”

On the Republican side, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has missed no chance to mention that his dad John Sr. was a postal worker. At the initial GOP debate in August, Governor Kasich answered a question about the economy by responding: “Let’s start off with my father being a mailman. I understand the concerns of all the folks across this country.” The conservative National Review once began a piece on Kasich with, “Have you heard that John Kasich’s dad was a mailman? If not, then you’ve probably never been around Ohio’s Republican governor.”

Other current and former candidates, of course, have made frequent mention of their fathers’ humble ways of earning a living: Marco Rubio (bartender), Chris Christie (accountant), Bernie Sanders (paint salesman), Scott Walker (small-town church pastor), Rick Perry (farmer and tail gunner on a B-17 during World War II). Ted Cruz has gone a step further in often bringing his father (a dishwasher-turned-Baptist preacher) along with him on the campaign trail. One thing it helps them do is draw a distinction between themselves and Jeb Bush (son of an ex-president).

But no one has yet eclipsed Democrat John Edwards. In the 2008 race, the former US senator and wealthy trial lawyer from North Carolina was so relentlessly on-message in bringing up his patriarch’s place of employment – a mill – that the media repeatedly rolled its eyes. “Edwards, the aw-shucks country boy, may have unfortunate timing, but his mama didn’t raise no fool,” Republican pundit Kathleen Parker wrote in a column sarcastically headlined “Did Edwards Mention His Dad Was a Millworker?” “Neither did his daddy, who, you may have heard, was a millworker.”

Chuck McCutcheon writes his "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.