Why Romney and Obama are Both Out of Touch

Instead of asking if the candidates relate to the everyman, maybe we should ask: ‘Does it matter?’

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It's easy to imagine the two presidential candidates on a playground.

"You're out of touch," Mitt Romney taunts President Obama.

"No, you're out of touch," Obama retorts.

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"No, you're out of touch."

"No, you're out of touch."

"No,…"

This is essentially the dialogue that's emerging between the two presidential campaigns. Romney, the Republican front-runner, has been saying in speeches that "flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers" has made Obama oblivious to the needs and struggles of ordinary Americans.

Obama's aides eagerly point to Romney gaffes about closing factories, firing people and not caring about the unemployed as ample evidence that Romney, not Obama, is the one lacking the common touch.

Let's settle this now, so we can move on to something more important: Both men are out of touch. The odds of a Joe Sixpack residing in the White House after the November elections are zero.

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Obama can at least claim humble beginnings, but he's also a product of Harvard Law School who has spent most of his professional life as an academic or politician. As an adult, nearly everything has gone his way. For the last three years, he's been living in an isolated mansion, attended to by a staff of dozens, with a household budget that's effectively unlimited.

Mitt Romney is the scion of an industrial and political titan who has a Harvard Law degree of his own, and a Harvard MBA to trump it. A 20-year career as an elite private-equity mogul made Romney a multimillionaire who probably wouldn't know the price of gas unless one of his drivers told him what it is.

Romney and Obama have very different backgrounds, but there's one important thing they have in common: Neither man had to hustle and make sacrifices to survive the worst recession in decades. They've heard about the recession, but they haven't lived it.

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Obama reads letters that struggling Americans send to the White House, and perhaps he occasionally hears from old basketball chums or childhood pals who have been waylaid by the tough economy. Romney counsels struggling Mormons from time to time, and who knows, maybe he chats occasionally with the gardener or the maid about the challenges they face in their personal lives. But neither man feels the same anxiety and stress as millions of Americans who are worried about their future and may not even know how they're going to pay the rent next month.

Instead of asking whether the two presidential candidates are out of touch, maybe we should ask: Does it matter?

Every voter obviously wants to elect a candidate with like-minded values. But expecting a presidential candidate to have ordinary sensibilities might be expecting too much. Presidential candidates are not ordinary people, by any definition. They have grandiose ambitions that probably require them to be detached from reality to start with. They spend months, or even years, shuffling between indistinct towns, giving the same stale speech to strangers they hope will take a personal liking to them.

The only real people they ever meet are at rope lines and staged events (and even some of those people aren't exactly real). Other people pay for everything. The only thing about running for president that might approximate real life is running out of money, winding down the adventure and having to figure out what to do next. The most likeable candidate is often one who's no longer running.

If we weren't so fixated on liking our candidates, maybe we'd do a better job of assessing their qualifications and researching their proposals, like a sports team trading for a needed player or a business hiring a key specialist. The American president is never going to be the guy next door, futzing over his lawnmower or overcooking burgers on the grill. Maybe we should be happy about that.

Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success, to be published in May. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.