Grasshopper Soup: Politics imitate grade school at convention
Rah, rah rah! The Democratic National Convention is underway and next week the Republican Convention will kick off. I am bound and determined by the strictest sense of duty and national pride, patriotism and prudence to avoid watching them on TV as much as possible. Though they do fondly remind me of the spirited student body elections and campaign speeches we had, and still have, in grammar school and high school.
The only differences are the kinds of promises made and the level of dramatic, flowery, emotion-evoking language, national conventions being the more emotional of the two. People are crying at the mere mention of “family” in Denver this week.
In grade school the promises made by student candidates were for free candy, free dress (in Catholic schools uniforms are required), longer recess and less homework.
In high school the student candidates promised to enroll girls at the school (I went to an all-boy school), more dances, shorter class periods, a longer lunch period, earlier dismissal and no homework.
At least the smart ones made those promises. And they got elected too, even though everyone voting for them knew perfectly well they would never be able to make good on their promises due to the existence of things like principals, teachers and parents. That’s one of the similarities between school politics and national politics, only at the national level there are things like opposition parties, majorities and minorities, congressmen, senators and judges and a system of checks and balances that often thwart the fulfillment of even the most realistic promises. We seem to forget that when we get so hyped up over one candidate or the other, believing that they have magical powers and can actually change reality itself. Even in grade school and high school there was always that glimmer of hope that the impossible could be accomplished.
At the national level the candidates promise a perfect world, more suits, longer vacation time, more work and less expenses for the average family (which usually means more taxes and more money for the government) free love and world peace. And, just like in fifth grade, everyone votes for the candidate who makes the most desirable promises.
Another significant difference between national political conventions and their imitators at the seventh grade and high school freshman class level is the budget. There is simply a lot more money available at the national level. This may be why so many more people are attracted to national conventions. You just can’t get as many goofy hats, more professionally made signs and buttons and such awesome noisemakers on an eighth grader’s weekly allowance.
Just out of curiosity I decided to look up “convention” in the dictionary. My favorite definition, from an old Webster’s Dictionary, says that convention means, among other things, “Lacking spontaneity, originality or individuality.” “Trite” and “typical” are other words used by Webster to define convention. It also says that convention means “…agreement or custom.” Webster also uses the phrase, “Slaves to convention.”
Yes, it must give great hope to all school children to know that national political conventions remain true to their most basic definitions.
But in Denver this week there is disagreement among democrats regarding claims of caucus fraud during the primaries and on how to handle the Iraq war and America’s image and reputation abroad. It will take more than a president and VP to fix all that.
Yes, as childish as it can be sometimes, there is much more at stake in national politics.
What we need is an unconventional convention.
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