Much of the mudslinging this presidential year centers on which candidate best understands the financial issues of the working class.
The question boils down to this: Which of the two candidates, Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama, is an elitist and therefore out of touch with common folk struggling to pay their bills, keep or buy a home and send their children to college?
Whoever occupies the White House will set tax and other domestic policies that could help lift us out of our economic funk or push people further into a financial hole.
But I'm tired of this debate about elitism. It's a bogus battle since both candidates are U.S. senators who, by virtue of their position, perks and privilege, are automatically elevated to a higher status.
It's important, however, to have a president who can sympathize with the less fortunate because an economic recovery is still off in the distance.
Although recent figures suggest the economy is showing some slow growth, fears of a recession still loom and consumer bankruptcy filings increased 28.8 percent for the first half of this year compared with the same period a year ago.
"We expect this trend to continue through the end of the year, with cases surging past 1 million by year end," said Samuel J. Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute.
The economy has lost jobs for seven straight months, the longest stretch since a slump ending May 2002, reports the Center for American Progress. "Not only are people losing jobs, but those with jobs are increasingly likely to have their hours reduced to part-time," said David Madland, director of the American Worker Project at the center's Action Fund.
A report released this summer by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that because of eroding home values, the vast majority of Americans have accumulated little or no wealth.
"This extraordinary destruction of wealth will have tremendous implications for millions of families," said Dean Baker, who co-authored the report, "The Impact of the Housing Crash on Family Wealth."
New data just released by the Census Bureau showed that there were 37.3 million people living in poverty in 2007, up from 36.5 million in 2006. The number of seniors 65 and older living in poverty increased from 3.4 million in 2006 to 3.6 million in 2007.
For children younger than 18, the number in poverty climbed as well, from 12.8 million in 2006 to 13.3 million in 2007.
We need a president who is willing to push for programs, legislation and reforms to lift people out of poverty and stabilize the financial lives of the middle class.
So can a presidential candidate who has no money worries sympathize with the less fortunate?
Much has been made of McCain's failure to remember how many homes he owns. It was an incredible misstep on McCain's part to appear not to know how many places he can call home when so many people are losing the one roof over their heads.
Can McCain appreciate what it's like to be concerned about making a monthly mortgage payment when financial disclosure statements indicate that he and his wife often accumulate monthly credit card balances equal to the cost of a house in some parts of the country?
Obama is living pretty well himself. Two highly profitable books have pushed his family deep into the territory of the wealthy.
Recently when asked to define being rich for taxation purposes, McCain showed how stuffed his wallet is.
"I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million," McCain said in an interview with Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California.
Mind you, he didn't say having $5 million in net worth but income of $5 million.
"I'm sure that comment will be distorted," McCain said immediately after Warren and the audience erupted in laughter.
McCain seemed pained to point out he was just joking about the $5 million figure.
In a separate sit-down, Warren also asked Obama to define rich.
"Here's how I think about it," Obama began. "If you are making $150,000 a year or less as a family, then you're middle class."
Obama then clarified his answer, adding that it "obviously depends on the region where you're living."
He went on to say, "I would argue that if you're making more than $250,000 then you're in the top 3, 4 percent of this country. You're doing well."
We all define rich differently.
What matters is electing a candidate who can "walk with kings" but not "lose the common touch" as Rudyard Kipling put it in his poem "If."
What really matters is which of the candidates can see beyond their own economic advantages to implement policies that truly demonstrate an understanding of the financial struggles of regular folk. The question shouldn't be who's richer but who can craft policies that help everyone - the affluent, the working class and the less fortunate.