Some politicians have it, others don’t. Vice President of the US, Joe Biden has clearly got it.
I’m talking about the common touch - the ability to get on with ordinary people.
Last week, Biden won hearts and minds when he took his granddaughter and three colleagues to lunch. Online users praised his easygoing manner – and his choice of restaurant, popular Beijing eatery Yao’s Chao Gan (Yao’s stir fried pork liver) near the Drum Tower.
Biden, 68, ordered five local dishes including noodles with soybean paste. He paid his bill of 79 yuan with a 100 RMB note, and left the change for the waiter.
One website described it as “Biden’s Noodle Diplomacy”.
Yao Ping, one of the restaurant’s owners, told China Daily of Biden: “He is very amiable. He talked not only to us, but with other customers.”
Jack Mark wrote on his micro blog that Biden’s low-key visit to the restaurant brought him closer to ordinary Chinese. “I really adore him,” he wrote.
Others cast doubts on Biden’s motives. Blogger Ling Yunxiao said the vice president’s meal was a publicity stunt. “As a politician, he has to create a favorable image,” wrote Ling Yunxiao.
Biden’s boss, President Barack Obama, is already known as a man of the people.
In June he was pictured having lunch at a diner in Ohio, US. The menu? Hotdogs. What could be more American? Pictures appeared in the press and online next day of the president devouring his chili dog and paying for his meal just like everyone else.
What a GREat photo opportunity for the White House.
The message was: your president is a regular guy who eats the same food as you.
Funny thing is, Washington insiders will tell you that President Obama genuinely enjoys fast food.
He regularly slips out of the White House to buy a burger, despite having a cordon bleu chef at his beck and call.
Some politicians’ attempts to appear chummy and ordinary don’t work. When British Prime Minister David Cameron told a youth “Call me Dave”, he was mocked mercilessly for his clumsy attempt at populism.
Cameron likes to present himself as an ordinary guy. He rides a mountain bike (least he did before he became prime minister).
Cameron told the Sun newspaper that he likes a pint of real ale, rather than champagne, and that he smokes Marlboro Lights (a habit he’s vowed to quit).
However, Call Me Dave (CMD) is seen by most people as a bit of a “toff” - a member of the privileged classes who is used to the finer things in life.
The son of a stockbroker, Cameron went to Eton, an exclusive public school which has produced more prime ministers than any other English school. Sending your kid to Eton costs 31,000 pounds (327,040 yuan) a year (to be paid in advance). This is much more than the average British wage.
Even today, Cameron is a member of White’s, an exclusive Mayfair gentlemen’s club. Other members include the Queen’s son, Prince Charles, and prince William.
A blogger named Myles commented on the website, Crooked Timber: “Why do voters want to see politicians attempt the common touch when it is such a transparent fraud?
“Because it is an act of submission to and affirmation of the voter by the politician.”
In other words, politicians, no matter how powerful, have to submit to a ritual humiliation every four or five years. It’s known as re-election.
And in order to win votes from the common people, you have to at least appear to have the common touch.