When I watch a presidential debate or read a newspaper, I cannot help but think about how closely the presidential primaries resemble grade school student council elections. Back then, candidates did cartwheels, performed raps and cross-dressed. Now they scowl, cry and point fingers. Back then, candidates promised chocolate milk in the water fountains, minimum days on Fridays, and no homework over the weekends. Now they promise universal health care, an end to illegal immigration, and an imminent withdrawal from Iraq. They put on outrageous shows and make outrageous pledges disregarding what is practical or even possible. But what’s feasible didn’t matter in grade school; nor does it now.
Mitt Romney promises to save the failing auto industry and southern economy. He told South Carolina, “You’ve seen it here, in furniture. You’ve seen the textile industry, where Washington watched, saw the jobs go and go. I’m not willing to declare defeat on any industry where we can be competitive. I’m going to fight for every job.” Romney may be painfully ignorant or in denial of the global economy, but more likely he’s just pandering for votes. How exactly does he plan to save American industries without instituting subsidies or regulations on free trade—both of which he has denounced? Romney’s strategy is to one-up all of the other candidates at their own games, pronouncing himself the candidate of change, God, national security, and a resurgent economy. Anything they can do, he says he can do better. He is the new Republican face in Washington, but his face seems as plastic and polished as a Ken Barbie doll—available in different models to fit different tastes.
Barack Obama runs on the catchphrase of “change.” He’s like one of those kids who tell their classmates that if they don’t like school, they should vote for him because he will change it. How exactly will Obama change things? By being different. Why is he different? Because he will change things. It’s puzzling how many adults still accept such circular logic. But then again, Obama has the advantage of being the charismatic new kid on the Democratic block. Everyone gravitates toward the new kid until he stops being new and people start realizing he’s not so different.
Rudy Giuliani is a classic case of the class bully. He’s popular in that everyone knows who he is, but usually because of his negative actions or attributes. Although many conservatives don’t like him because of his positions on gun control and abortion, they fear what will happen if the country falls into the hands of a softie like Obama. Giuliani’s the kid who runs under the slogan “Vote for Rudy—or else.” Or else what? Or else bad things will happen, but he leaves that part up to our imaginations. Children’s imaginations are always much more vivid than reality. But unfortunately for Rudy, bullies rarely win in the end. The best they can hope for is to tag along on the ticket as a VP candidate.
Hillary Clinton is the queen bee, although some might call her the queen bitch. She asserts her power by playing hard-ball. She’s not afraid to step on toes (or stomp on them) and bad-mouth people (or black-ball them) to get what she wants. Barack’s wanted to be president since kindergarten! I’ve only wanted to be president since third grade! She panders to the low men on the totem pole, trying to make them believe that she’s really their friend, that she really cares, that she’s not really as rough or egotistic as she appears. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that she resents having to be elected rather than being coronated.
John McCain is the “honest straight-shooter” (e.g. unpopular outcast) who squeals on all of his classmates. Making enemies out of people who should be his allies, he’s sponsored legislation regulating free speech (McCain-Feingold) and has consistently opposed the Bush tax cuts. The popular kids, in this case the Democrats, don’t mind him so much because he thwarts the Republicans.
What about Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee? They’re the gadflies. Few people really take them seriously despite how seriously they take themselves. They’re the kids who actually believe they have a chance to win when they really don’t.
So who will come out on top in this rather juvenile election? My bets are on the newest kids on the block—Obama and Romney.