Mind The Gap

Over the course of the past several months, we’ve witnessed one of the most entertaining, scary and mind-numbing presidential primaries of recent time. The Republican Party is either battling for its soul or we are witnessing the most brilliant performance art piece of all time.

Taxes, unemployment, class warfare: The haves and have-nots have consumed much of the rhetoric in this year’s election cycle. Today’s political discourse would have many believe that most of the country is wildly divided, occupying opposite ends of a political spectrum with little to no overlap; however, the truth is very different. Most Americans are moderate, and though political ideologies may differ, we generally seek similar goals.

Throughout what has seemed like an endless procession of debates, a comment made by one candidate was particularly jarring as it highlighted a troubling trend: a growing gap between politicians and the people they represent.

Newt Gingrich recently said of the poor, “You have a very poor neighborhood. You have students that are required to go to school. They have no money, no habit of work… They have no habit of showing up on Monday and staying all day or the concept of  ’I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal…What if you paid them in the afternoon to work…What if they became assistant janitors, and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?”

Forget for a moment the disregard for child labor laws, even the displaced workers (replaced by a cheaper child work force). His solution centers on the premise that there is an inherent flaw in the poor that is best fixed through imposed manual labor.

How is it that in a society more open and connected than ever before the gap between politicians and voting Americans has never felt larger? If politicians (not their staff members) actually used the Web, specifically social media sites, they’d begin to understand their constituents more intimately. It’s something that can easily be done everyday, not just during election cycles. President Obama’s recent Google+ Hangout – albeit during a campaign season – is a perfect example of a politician using social media to connect with his constituency.

Obama was recently challenged by the wife of an unemployed American semiconductor engineer on his visa program that allows highly skilled foreign workers to gain employment within the US. Obama, perplexed, insisted she send her husband’s resume so he could look into this matter further.

We watch politicians debate bills like SOPA and PIPA and believe these moments expose how far removed and out of touch they are with technology, the Web and social media. But the truth is, false statements, outrageous stereotypes and inane proposals expose their disconnect.

As a politician, it is your civic duty to be in touch. Rejecting the vessels that connect you to your constituency is a failure of responsibility as a candidate and elected official.

The comments made by Gingrich offend me not because they are representative of Republican values, because they aren’t. Rather, they offend me because it is yet another glaring example of a politician pontificating while ostensibly removed and out of touch with the real issues and the people he claims to represent.