Posted Monday, November 1st, 2004
From the Classroom to the Oval Room: The Elementary History of American Politics
Like so many civic-minded Americans, I’ve been analyzing the ups and downs, rights v. lefts, and tits for tats of the presidential race. I’ve listened to the speeches, followed the polls, and marched in the protests. And I’d like to share my observations on the current state of American politics: they’re somewhat, well, elementary.
That’s right, this election is a throwback to the good ol’ days of government: student council. You remember when the most important political figure in your life was the Class President, and you probably forgot who she was two weeks after she was elected. But during the week of the election, the hallways were covered in homemade campaign posters and the candidates replaced the popular and awkward kids as the subject of cafeteria gossip.
Now we are adults, voting for the country’s president, but the nature of the race remains the same. Bush and Kerry plaster their posters and stickers in front yards and on car bumpers instead of lockers and chalkboards, and their design has evolved from bubble letters on construction paper to patriotic computer graphics.
In school, candidates blazed their campaign trails through the cafeteria, talking to the little people of the math club and the chess team—kids they’d ignore again right after the election. Bush and Kerry embarked on a similar journey, stumping in every town across Missouri to remind those little people that they really do matter—at least on November 2nd.
Lest we get caught up in the posters and swing voters, let’s pause to examine the foundation of every campaign: the platform. Candidates used to run on issues like extended recess or moratoriums on detentions and homework. Now they promise extended health insurance or moratoriums on poverty and taxes. Special interest groups are bribed with addendums, like slacker gun laws for the NRA, new uniforms for the cheerleaders. No matter if the treasury has been dried out by wars or school dances—it’s only the promise of the best year (or four) ever that matters.
And we humble voters are still manipulated by that dirty campaign tool: gossip. Once, circulating a rumor that your opponent still wet the bed could win support from a wide base of voters. Today, gossip is dressed up in a by-line and called “news,” and it is more powerful than ever. In the Bush v. Kerry race, the hot gossip is about war records and wifely decorum, and it has proved far more effective at swaying voters than platform promises.
But the most depressing revelation about the similarity between school and presidential elections is this: no one ever succeeded in extending recess. The student council spent their terms choosing school dance themes and posing for yearbook pictures. And after the excitement of the election passed, the rest of the class went back to gossiping about the cool and weird kids, just like we’ll go back to gossiping about Britney Spears and Michael Jackson.
Unless, of course, we all start acting like adults.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by Carol Novack on Monday, November 1st, 2004 at 8:07 PM
"Humble voters" with sense and sensibilities aren't affected by idiotic gossip. Good point about the puerile nature of American politics, but I can only hope that thinking American women will have the sense to vote against a regime with an abyssmal record on education and the environment, a hatred of homosexuals, and a stated goal to throw back the clocks on a woman's constitutional right to choose. Not to mention Hallburton and Iraq.
Posted by Ellen Janis on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004 at 4:51 PM
Although these days there is much more at stake than school dances and recess, I unfortuately believe that a very small percentage of the population knows it. While it causes the small portion of conscientious voters to tear their collective hair out, too many Americans vote on charisma and rumors rather than the issues. Thank you for reminding us, on this day of hope and trepidation.
Posted by Jerry Bauers on Monday, November 8th, 2004 at 10:20 PM
Great thoughts after a hotly contested election. Perhaps all the energy that surfaced in this election can be harnessed to a greater good. While we may be disappointed in the results, the power of our nation is that we get to decide.