Isn’t it Time To Take the High School Out of National Politics?

Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney 2012
The source image for the caricature of Mitt Romney is a Creative Commons licensed photo from Gage Skidmore’s Flickr photostream. The source image for this caricature of Barack Obama is a photo in the public domain available via US Air Force The flag background and the bodies are from the White House website.

Dear Readers,

Help. Politics suck. I wish I weren’t so easily caught up in the whirlwind. I wish I had a better perspective. But I am who I am. Despite my pragmatism, I find this whole system of electing a president to be emotionally unsettling. Downright disturbing.

In high school, my friend Mark ran for Student Council president as a joke. He was a kid with a sense of humor, whom everybody liked, so we egged him on until he was convinced to put his name on the ballot. I have no idea who he ran against, because it was 30 years ago and that person lost, but my guess is that the other person had better qualifications than Mark to take on the job in a meaningful way. The other person may have accomplished something for the school that year, but truth be told, most of us didn’t take the system seriously and would rather put the funny person in charge than the serious one.

National politics, thank goodness, are not so frivolous. You can’t put the funny guy in just because you like him better. This is true for many reasons, not the least of which is we don’t know the candidates well enough to realistically decide (even though we think we do) that on a personal level we like one better than the other. They can shake hands and hold babies and proclaim their loyalty to us, but when it comes down to it, what we know about their personalities is mostly assumption based on hearsay or physical appearance or refined social skills.

So it would seem that the best way to determine who we want to lead our country over the next four years should be based on something more substantial, such as their position on issues of importance to individuals and to our country. And for most people, I think it is. I know that I decided who I was going to vote for quite a while ago because I like his positions on the issues that are most important to me better than the positions of the other guy. I’m not great about reading up thoroughly on every intricacy of his platform but I do know enough to believe that his plan is more in line with my thoughts on how this country should be run than his opponent’s plan.

I’m not thrilled with my choice, though. I don’t think I could ever be thrilled with a choice like this. There are too many moving parts, too many pieces to the puzzle. I cannot agree with every decision that a single man makes; I cannot feel confident about every step he takes. But I also know that he won’t be working in a vacuum. He’ll be the most powerful in the room but he will always be surrounded by advisors who will provide him with intel and guide him through the individual situations that he encounters. It is essential that the candidate I choose is both smart and thoughtful, but that is usually the case with presidential candidates. In my lifetime there have been very few who didn’t meet those qualifications. Notice I didn’t say zero. The system doesn’t always weed out as well as it should.

If what matters to most voters is the candidates’ positions and how they will initiate and respond to the needs of our country, why is it that what happens in the public eye during the circus that we call the election season is focused on how the candidate looks, his speaking skills, and how well he connects, emotionally not politically, with the audience? The debates are about a candidate’s performance skills and the television advertisements are about emotional manipulation. They pretend to be about the issues but they are so scripted to play with our hearts not our heads that they never end up being about anything but which guy will look more attractive on the world stage, issues aside.

In many ways, the weeks and months leading up to the elections remind me more of the popularity contests that precede the crowning of Homecoming Queen than the appointing of the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the free world. I honestly can’t believe that all the posturing and emotional manipulation changes many people’s decisions about which way they are going to vote. Most conservatives are going to take the conservative option. Most liberals are going to vote liberal. Moderates choose the candidate whose policies fit most closely with their leanings.

So why spend all the money and energy and physical resources to stage debates or create ads that are so far from honest and that only serve to either neutralize each other or fuel the fires that have already been set in a candidate’s name? Isn’t there a better way to get closer to the reality of what will happen when a candidate is in office than creating a “reality” show that is no more realistic than The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or The Jersey Shore?

I don’t have any answers. I’m simply frustrated. Two smart, thoughtful men could debate the issues and help us better understand their positions, but instead they throw zingers at each other and impatiently wait for the other to finish so they can call him a liar. And both of them disrespect the moderator as if they were two schoolboys so caught up in a fistfight that they knock out the teacher trying to break it up. And in the end, trained pundits claim victory for their candidate and the TV news personalities echo that which sounds good to them. And then they play those annoying ads that after a while begin to sound like the adults in a Charlie Brown show. Whaaa-whaa-whaaa-whaa-whaaa-whaa.

So tell me, how do you feel about all of this?




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11 thoughts on “Isn’t it Time To Take the High School Out of National Politics?

  1. I totally agree with you, Sara. I can’t believe how immature both of these boys behave on public television. And who decided public television was such a good platform for describing ideals and policies objectively, anyway? I wish there were a less celebrity-crazed way to choose the leader of the free world.

    In the meantime, there’s this youtube video. A couple of crass words, but it would be hilarious if it weren’t so close to home it’s scary. A little satire might make you feel a little better about the whole election thing, though ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I didn’t get a link for the youtube video but I did see one today that made me giggle. Using the debate footage, they replaced the actual words with words that seemed to have come from them by the way they positioned their mouths. Hard to explain but very funny. Please forward the video you speak of because as you said, a little satire might make me feel a little better.

  2. I’m with you, Sara – frustrated by the antics of both parties. I also agree that debates and ads don’t seem to really sway people one way or the other and just serve to be annoying background noise. That said, I do watch the debates (and then watch SNL to laugh about them) while scrolling though the twitter feeds to see what funny things people are saying about them. It’s a form of entertainment that way. Maybe I’m too bitter and cynical to look at it any other way. But I ALWAYS vote. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I also ALWAYS vote and I hope that others do to, but I also hope that they get to know something about their candidates’ positions before they fill in the little circle by the name. At moments, I do find the whole situation entertaining but when I stop to think, I get angry. I don’t even blame the candidates; its the machine that they are a part of. I am thankful for the comedians though. Life would be so painful without them.

  3. Sara, though I appreciate your delightfully thoughtful candor, and though I feel your well-deserved angst, I respectfully see things from a different vantage point. I didn’t see two intelligent men throwing zingers at each other as they wait to call each other liars…except for perhaps a smidgen during the second debate–the town hall format. Both of the candidates “lost” it a little in that one. I have been astounded at the respect they have shown during debates one and three. I feel so proud of both of them! I know I couldn’t sit there and hear the other candidate disavow my words, my stand, my platform and stay so coolly reserved until it was my turn. No! I’d be up on the table shouting and tearing my hair out! What we’re seeing is America, land of the FREE. Land of FREE SPEECH. Land of healthy competition and opposing viewpoints that are ALLOWED IN A FREE COUNTRY like ours. To see the heat turned up on one or both sides is just the stuff of good debating!

    Afterward, haven’t you noticed the warmth and respect they’ve shown each other’s families? I get a lump in my throat when I see that. Listen, I understand where you’re coming from; and if you listen to the commercial ads, yeah, those are ugly. That’s the underbelly of Madison Avenue fueled by little jerks who are in charge of marketing. But the debates? Girl…those are some civilized, exciting events that should make us wave Old Glory and shout hurrah! Think about trying to have a fair election, debates, differing opinions in most of the rest of the world – isn’t going to happen. Often, you’d be killed. Or your family.

    I am firmly entrenched in my choice of candidate, but I’m not upset with the other one. On a brighter note, it’ll all be over soon! Great post, Sara!

    1. I love when you bring your thoughts here. I have noticed the warmth that the families showed each other after the debates and I do agree that we wouldn’t see the level of civility that we see here in many other countries (although I wouldn’t say MOST of the rest of the world.) But, I do feel as though I learn little that I didn’t already know at the debates because both men are constantly accusing the other of misrepresenting him or of flip-flopping or of being a failure. I felt this in all three debates, although I will concede that the second one was the worst. I don’t blame the candidates per se; they are caught up in the machinery of running a political campaign, but I do think it would be more effective to have the candidates discuss the issues, their similarities and differences in more depth and with less petty accusations. Not that I expect that to happen any time soon. I too am firmly entrenched in my choice of candidate and am not upset with the other one. But mostly, I am looking forward to November 7th.

So what do you think?