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Two Salesmen, One Product - Snake Oil
Published on Thursday, October 5, 2000 in the Telegraph of London
Two Salesmen, One Product - Snake Oil
by Sandra Barwick
It seems only right that Arthur Miller's native land should stage a salesman's contest to help its citizens decide how to vote.

In the US presidential debate on CNN, George W Bush was cast as Willie Loman, the anti-hero in Death of a Salesman, with all his mingled pathos, family values and ancient patter. Mr Bush is an immoderately modest man. He made that point clear. "Ah was a small oil person for a while in west Texas," he said at one point, peering over the podium. He loves his wife, and, "What ah care about is children."

Deep in the heart of Texas, Mr Bush has been doing what governors do, including personally comforting the afflicted during floods. "To put my arms round people and cry with them - that's what governors do." In Washington, the insincerity is slicker and the salesmen wear more expensive suits. So it seemed from Al Gore's performance. He looked better fed, as though he had met his sales targets for years - not necessarily a selling point in careworn middle America.

He looked dangerously Ivy League, and he talked worryingly clever. Mr Gore, or his focus groups, had evidently identified this problem in advance. Even if he had not hugged the flooded citizens of Texas, he was in touch with the poor and disadvantaged. In the debating hall, he told America, was Winifred Skinner from Iowa, 79 years old, who has to collect cans to pay for her prescription drugs. And not just Mrs Skinner. "She has come all the way from Iowa with her poodle."

Can America fail to buy a man who is taking the grassroots so seriously that he is receiving political feedback from an Iowan dog? Then they came to women. As every salesman knows, it is the woman who typically makes the decision to buy. Gore and Bush put their shiny shoes in the door and told Mrs America, firmly, that they loved their wives. Gore mentioned grandfatherhood. If he had been able to get out the snaps, it seemed he would have done.

Whom to buy? The big, rich-looking man with the way with words, or the honest guy from Texas easily puzzled by Washington fuzzy maths? Afterwards the polls showed that Gore had done better overall. But Bush had had more success with men. The women went for Gore. Was it his suit, or his stature, or his statements? "I support a woman's right to choose" and "I trust women to make the decisions that affect their lives, their destinies and their bodies."

Bush and Gore are due to meet again in mid-October in North Carolina, and the final salesmen's duel takes place a few days later in St Louis. It seems a long protracted way to choose a brand of snake oil.

Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2000


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