Just once I want to see a convention speech that runs as follows:
“I was born in the lap of luxury with a silver spoon in my mouth. My parents were excruciatingly wealthy and had been since their ancestors came over on the Mayflower. The greatest hardship my grandmother had to face was once, during the Great Depression, when the maid served too many rolls by mistake. F. Scott Fitzgerald based most of his novels on my uncle.
“I am totally indifferent to the American Dream. My father once spent a night keeping watch in a dark warehouse, but only because he tumbled into a pile of his cherished gold bullion and could not extricate himself.
“I have no hobbies in common with most Americans. If you invited me on a fishing trip, I would laugh. Have a beer with you? You clammy-handed, superannuated, obese plebeian? I daresay not. If anything, I wish this country were more like France.
“My family had, at best, a low opinion of the importance of education. We were too busy for such humdrum things, busy with our yacht, summering. During my Sweet Sixteen I think my mother might have muttered something about the Less Fortunate, but I only glimpsed them once, through the window of our off-white Tuesday limo, and it gave me nightmares for weeks. Once my grandmother paid for me to spend a week among the Other 99 Percent, a week to which I memorably alluded in my college admissions essay. That was it, though. But my record indicates that I have been a pretty good governor. I am cheating on my husband and intend to continue to do so. I hate children.”
Of course, this will never happen. But I’d even settle for something that went like this:
“Hello, America. I grew up in the suburbs, where we could afford everything! Probably the biggest hardship I’ve overcome was when I got wait-listed at Yale. Also, uh, my dog died. But yeah, that’s it. Lawns are great! Thanks, mom and dad!”
Four days of conventions have left me with a deep yearning to hear a speech that makes me believe that truly anyone can be president. The more convention speeches I hear, the more I doubt that this is the case. Unless you overcame at least sixteen insuperable obstacles before you turned eight, you are right out of the presidential sweepstakes. America’s candidates for office are not just the 1 percent. They're the 1 percent of the 1 percent. Compared to this rarefied group, the odds of being born into the landed gentry look almost good.
It’s the narrative, stupid.
If we ever attained a country where everyone was always guaranteed to be moderately comfortable, we’d have no candidates whatsoever.
Across the nation, millions of suburban children who faced no obstacle less superable than forgetting their soccer cleats before a mildly important practice are gazing aghast at the television set. Their parents always said that they could be anything they wanted. But clearly this does not extend to the presidency. How are they supposed to compete? Frantically they go pacing through their genealogies in search of some obscure grandfather who possibly lost a tooth at the Battle of the Bulge. And woe if they do not find him!
Let me put this to you gently. Unless your grandmother took in sewing by candlelight while your father worked in a mine and you yourself climbed uphill both ways to school before leaving for your job of protecting bingo patrons with a giant shotgun while studying hard for the bar in six languages and trying to pass the American Dream on to your own children, you may be ineligible for the nation’s highest office. Certainly you will never get a prime speaking slot at a convention. And if you're running against Tammy Duckworth, just throw in the towel right now.
This is such a fixed trope that even Mitt Romney and Ann Romney had to spend a portion of their young married life eating tuna and pasta off an ironing board. “If we don't,” Mitt nervously mumbled to young Ann, “I can never be president.”
The American Dream is all very well. Do better than your parents did, by all means. But once you attain the comfortable life they always wished for you, know this: Your children will never be president. How can they? The instant they open their mouths to tell their life stories, they will be paralyzed with embarrassment. Run for office? But you’ve never spent a day without central air conditioning!
In fact, if you are a striving father reading this and want your child to be president, it might be best to leave the family under mysterious circumstances the moment you finish, preferably taking all the funds with you. Your daughter may feel betrayed now, but she will thank you later, in her convention speech. Right after she thanks her mother. (You always thank your mother.)