Something was missing in last week's Republican presidential debate. It took me awhile to notice it, what with Perry's 53-second brain freeze and the drama over the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain.
That "something" was the main thing that matters in all these debates and the general election itself -- people.
I can recall few instancfes in which a candidate talked about a real person he or she had met while campaigning, someone who told them a story about his or her life that the audience could relate to or that illustrated the impact of the policies these candidates support or oppose. This debate should have been full of such stories. After all, it was supposed to be about the economy and jobs, and we are in need of more jobs. But the closest anyone came to talking about real people was Newt Gingrich talking about Henry Ford.
There are a number of possibilities. Perhaps these candidates are doing very little actual campaigning of the kind that candidates used to do in Iowa and New Hampshire and instead are spending their time in private fund-raising, media interviews, and speeches to special interest groups. They may be running a version of a "virtual campaign" in which they never really have to talk to voters so they don't have any examples of how voters are suffering.
Or it may be that the Republicans' positions -- against government actually doing anything to help people and in favor of dismantling regulations that protect people -- just doesn't lend itself to telling stories about how those policies would impact real people. At least not stories that most voters would want to hear.
Who's going to tell a story about a 1 percenter who can't redecorate a yacht if the government raises his taxes? Not a real sob story?
Who's going to tell a story about a doughnut shop owner who's mad about "government" regulations after food inspectors found rat feces in the flour?
The truth is policies Republicans favor hurt the average person so much that it is hard to illustrate them with stories that convey the idea that the candidates care about us. This will be a much bigger problem in the general election. If President Obama illustrates his policies with stories about people he met in Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania, he'll be connecting with voters while the GOP candidate praises the virtues of the "free market." Free markets don't vote. People do.