The legend has it, though never confirmed, that at the height of the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette asked why the peasants were rioting.
"Because they are hungry; they have no bread," she was told.
"Well, then let them eat cake," the queen consort is said to have replied.
No one knows if the tale is true; it was a scene in all the movies, so it gets repeated as if it was. Nonetheless, it has been used as a prime example of how the ruling nobility just doesn't understand the struggle of common folks. If Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were around today, cable TV pundits probably would be calling them "out of touch with mainstream voters."
And yet, as distant and far-fetched as that seems, we see political leaders today every bit as clueless as that bubbleheaded queen two centuries past.
For more than a year, the nation's "peasants" (i.e., regular folks) have let their leaders know they are tired of their antics, posturing and stupid political games that leave problems unsolved, often so they can be used in the coming election campaigns as a wedge against their foes.
Partisanship has led to gridlock and a poisoned atmosphere, even as the economy sputters, jobs and homes are lost and the world is threatened by terrorism and rogue nations. Which brings to mind another legendary scene, that of the Emperor Nero fiddling while Rome burns.
The people are angry and letting everyone know with their rallies, letters to newspapers, calls to radio stations and their votes. In recent state primaries across the nation, we saw several incumbents and establishment candidates sent packing, leaving many others nervous as their turn in the carnival dunking booth awaits.
And yet, amid this turmoil, we see leaders who are so tin-eared to voter concerns that one wonders how they can look at their reflection in the mirror without cracking up.
First came U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, a favorite of the amorphous tea party crowd that is demanding more accountability and less overall horse manure from the denizens of D.C. An evangelical Christian, Souder pushed for a return to family values - apparently for everyone but himself. Turns out he was cheating on his wife of 36 years with a part-time aide, and therefore chose to resign.
There aren't enough ways to spell "hypocrite" to describe someone who advocates monogamous purity while fooling around with the hired help. It's one thing to make a mistake, which anyone can do. Certainly politicians are as human as the rest of us. But it takes mind-numbing arrogance to say one thing to our faces while they do another.
Such two-faced phonies reside in both parties. Witness Richard Blumenthal, Democratic attorney general of Connecticut and a candidate for that state's open Senate seat.
In several speeches, Blumenthal claimed that he served "in" the Vietnam War, which he did not. What he meant to say was that he served "during" the Vietnam War but in a stateside role with the Marine Reserves.
When a New York Times story revealed the truth, Blumenthal struck back, saying that he merely "misspoke" on a few occasions and attacked his attackers for impugning his honor. Just messed up a couple words, he claims.
But those words make a huge difference. You can say you grew up "during" Vietnam or "in" Vietnam; that's not quite the same thing. And one assumes you would know which was correct even as you were saying it.
After spinning the story for several days, Blumenthal seemed to realize no one was buying that he merely "misspoke" and has seen fit to apologize. So he gets partial credit for that.
Yet voters are left to scratch their heads and wonder if these clowns will ever get it. It's supposed to be about us, the people, those whom they are supposed to serve. Instead, these empty suits preen, posture, they fiddle and say, "let them eat cake," sullying the reputation of all public servants, many of whom serve nobly.
And they wonder why those sad little tea partiers are so ticked off.
Out of touch? Out of their minds, more like. And as a result, quite a few of them are going to be out of office come November.