Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing, baby....
I cast my first ballot as a democrat in kindergarten. One morning in early November, the Weekly Reader challenged us to vote for a presidential candidate. The first picture shown was of a grey-haired, elderly man, with his mouth wide open, presumably yelling at a large body of people, and the second a younger, dark-haired man smiling and waving at the camera. To a five year-old, Michael Dukakis was the clear winner. Too bad the country didn’t agree.
The idea of voting for someone for their charm or charisma is often sneered at, but irresistible nonetheless. Our current President doesn’t have much to offer in achievements or experience, but he has folksy charm. Most of us like to think of ourselves as more sophisticated than just kindergarteners perusing the weekly reader, but are we? Should we be?
I’ve spent the last few months trying to pick a democratic candidate to support, this time the way I’m supposed to: studying the issues. But for all the importance we place on them, the issues have gotten me nowhere.
While examining the issues and where the candidates stand, I’ve learned two things: 1) I don’t know enough about the issues to pick a candidate on the issues, and 2) I don’t actually care about them.
Take global warming. How should we regulate carbon emissions? Cap and trade? Carbon Tax? Carbon Credit? Quite honestly, do most of us understand the differences between these systems? I don’t. And even if I did, am I qualified to decide which one is best for our nation? Then consider the Iraq war, education, same-sex marriage, or health care. The answers are too complex to be determined in a wikipedia search or a candidate soundbite.
What I really want is to have the same sensation I did in kindergarten – to look at a man and feel a good feeling. It sounds dumb, I know, but maybe if you knew my favorite president, you’d understand.
Yes, President Josiah Bartlet. If you don’t recognize his name from the scrolls of history, you’re looking in the wrong genre. President Bartlet served for eight years as the on NBC’s The West Wing. Chuckle at my naiveté, but when I see Martin Sheen, I quietly hum hail to the Chief under my breath.
On the show, Bartlet’s staff describes him as “the real thing.” He makes mistakes, big ones even, but you know he cares deeply about the nation and its people. This is what I want from a president. That even if I don’t agree with what he decides to do, I know that he’s a thinking person, a trustworthy person. Not a saint, but not a swindler – someone with integrity.
Can what I’m looking for be only found in the realms of fiction? Today’s candidates read stump speeches with meticulously tested language, bow to endless polling data and perform at scripted public events. It’s impossible to know who the real candidates are behind the duplicitous masks of the well-crafted campaign.
As an American citizen, my vote is the most personal thing I have to offer to our democracy. It may be a fool’s errand in this day and age, but I’m going to keep watching each debate, listening to each interview, searching for the “real thing." If you find it, let me know.
Note: I wrote this blog for gather.com's election 08 people's press corps blogger competition. If you're a member there, look for my article under mmcottrell, and leave a comment or rate me if you like. Thanks for reading....