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Walker Hayes. (Photo: YouTube).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Relatability

By Kevin O'Toole, September 28 2021 12:01 am

What is the most important trait of a politician?

One now famous country singer weighs-in and provides the answer: Relatability.

I owe this insight and column to a recent teaching moment I received from my daughter, Ryan Marie. She tries hard to make her 56-year-old dad hip and in tune with interesting news and what’s “trending” for her 20-something crowd. What could possibly go wrong? While I find it sometimes difficult to bridge the generational gap, I do sometimes find a meaningful and transcendent moment. In this teaching moment, Ryan Marie pulled out her iPhone and showed me this music video on YouTube – over 26 million views of as of writing this.

Evidently, singer Walker Hayes is all the rage with his very popular country song, Fancy Like. If this isn’t resonating, don’t worry I had never heard of him either and then came TikTok. In his TikTok video he’s doing a 30 second clip of him and his daughter dancing to the song. If you have dreams of having a floor speech go “viral,” it will be humbling for you to know that this TikTok clip has 2.4 million likes.

As he states in an interview about his smash hit, Walker was surprised that this song and video was such a breakthrough hit.

Hearing Walker tell his life story, he has struggled breaking through for 17 years and it was this song that finally got him there. The song is about how when he got paid, he and his wife got “fancy” and went to Applebee’s for a special date night – splurging on Bourbon Street steak and an Oreo shake.

He went on to add that most peoples’ lives are simple. As he continued to extoll the goodness of a date at an Applebee’s, Walker rhapsodized that this special dinner was the exception (he opens the song talking about going to Wendy’s and dipping fries in a Frosty). You could feel the romance and excitement that he has for his wife. The catchy song theorizes, and perhaps oversimplifies; that simple pleasures in life are often far more satisfying and connecting than expensive ones.

When asked the why his song is so popular, his reply was simple – relatability. No focus group, market research, or poll needed.

Bringing us to the point of the column

The important takeaway from this is that politicians need to remember that relatability is something that connects us to our constituents. It’s not a press release about legislation you’ve introduced. It’s about how are you going to help me recover from my home being blown away like a scene from the movie “Twister” or needing a canoe to get to my house after another “100- year” flood that’s happened 3 times in the last 10 years?

For our younger generation of operatives or newcomers to this political world, I’ve been around long enough (I’m not old – I started young!), I can remember a moment when former Governor Christie Todd Whitman really walked into it. Once, during a discussion on property tax rebates, she said “As funny as it seems, $500 is a lot of money.

While she may not have meant to sound like someone whose money was so old they don’t know where it came from, it came across as indifferent and disconnected to the middle class. It only continued to allow her wealthy background, and perception of Mayflower descendance, to define her as out-of-touch. Perhaps not a fair charge, but nevertheless a prevailing view that she was unable to shake.

As I have stated before, success in this life means creating connective tissue with one another. Politicians today sometimes lose sight of the connective gene and are too often so focused to “stay on message” that they forget to be human. It’s why every candidate running for office, from school board to President, casts themselves as an “average American/political outsider” – they want to be relatable.

As funny as it seems, a Bourbon Street steak and Oreo shakes from Applebee’s is more relatable than surf ‘n turf from Morton’s.

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