In politics, every crisis gets its own cliché, and the near collapse of the U.S. financial system has already spawned a groaner: the false dichotomy pitting "Wall Street" versus "Main Street." Whenever Barack Obama and John McCain babble about our dueling American boulevards—and they both do it, a lot—you can practically hear the implied sound effects. Wall Street: hiss! Main Street: yay! In this climate, boosting soda fountains and sliming investment bankers carries about as much political risk as declaring that America is awesome.
Never mind that the majority of us don't live on either street, or that, if pressed to admit it, we envy the perks of both—the warm simplicity of Main Street and the lucrative grandeur of Wall Street. The problem lies in suggesting an antagonistic relationship where a symbiotic one exists. Economic health depends on the recovery of both places, not one or the other. And like all political shorthand, the more frequently it's used, the less sincere it sounds. For both candidates, "Main Street" has become a two-word crutch to flash concern for a place that neither guy seems to know very much about.