Now I get it! We’re all back in high school.

May 15, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

There has been lots of news lately that John Edwards has endorsed Barack Obama. I realize that John Edwards was a United States Senator and that he is highly accomplished, but it puzzles me why anyone should care so much about what Edwards (or any other individual) thinks regarding the presidential campaign. After all, most of us have the ability to think for ourselves, and we each have the ability to read and contemplate before voting. Despite our status as grown-ups who can educate ourselves as to the issues and make decisions on her own, it still somehow matters what John Edwards thinks. Or at least the media wants to make us think it’s important.

I’m not trying to pick on John Edwards. I think he’s a good and decent fellow. Nor am I trying to pick on Barack Obama.  I haven’t disguised very well that I admire Obama and I have great hopes for him.  My point is really about endorsements and politics in general. Why should anyone care that some prominent person stands up and announces that he or she prefers one of candidates over another? Are we that spineless or are we that empty-headed that we wait to see what someone else does before we follow suit? Or do human animals feel a deep need to run in herds, and that’s just the way it is?

So then it occurred to me that this entire political process is actually a rehash of high school. To be more specific, it’s a rehash of a student government election in high school. Many of you are probably familiar with this phenomenon. There is a lot of energy spent, a lot of people stroking each other and lots of talk about who is “supporting” whom. There are numerous posters and speeches and jealousies.  Sometimes it gets so wacky that it seems like Lord of the Flies. Lots of scapegoating, ad hominem attacks, name-calling, back-biting and ostracizing. It’s all done for sport, not anything of substance, and it all goes on far too long until someone is chosen to be the “President” of the student body.  At that point, the President and all the other elected officers strut about but proceed to do not much of anything important. I’m not denying that it seems very important to those student government officers (and those who get caught up in the frenzy). Back in high school, though, I wondered what the difference was between a school that had an elected student government and one that did not. I couldn’t think of any significant difference. Whether it has a student government has nothing to do with how good a school it is.

So here we are, in 2008, and it seems like high school every time I read the political news. There’s always another new story about somebody twisting someone else’s words unfairly, or somebody claiming that someone else does or doesn’t like them on the basis of something that has nothing to do with how to run the country.  There’s people suggesting that we shouldn’t vote for someone because his last name reminds them of someone else.  There’s arguments that old candidates are better and that old candidates are worse.

And then there’s that earnest voice of Barack Obama trying to explain how he would address serious problems facing the country, yet getting drowned out by loud and tedious voices of ignorant and yackity competitor candidates, so-called news reporters and pundits. And occasionally we hear from people in the street who are almost proud that they know nothing about the country and nothing about the candidates. It’s all crazy, except that we now live in a country that really does face numerous dangerous challenges and we need somebody to focus on real solutions that will involve difficult choices.  Instead of doing the legwork to understand these serious issues (economic, energy, environment, health care), we make sport of sniping away at things that don’t matter to anything at all, except for the raw quest for political power.

We have such a strange way of selecting candidates! Imagine if we were trying to choose between two brands of laundry detergent. One way to make that choice would be to compare the properties of the two brands of soaps. One of them works better in hot water, while the other makes clothes smell cleaner (or something like that). Or maybe one of them costs a little more than the other. In a rational world we would soberly compare these differences and make our choice based on our needs.

Now imagine two soap companies competing against each other like our political candidates compete. One of those soap companies would start insinuating that the other was a brand for appeasers, or gays, or that the president of the rival company has funny eyebrows or that the other brand of soap fails to display a little American flag on the front of the box. And then there would be an intense barrage of commercials, for months, having nothing to do with the actual properties of the soap, and people would get all caught up in whether it’s OK for one brand of soap not to have a little picture of an American flag on the front. And then one of the brands of soap would start giving publicity to famous people who would endorse buying Brand X over Brand Y. And then maybe Brand Y would suggest that the company making Brand X is less patriotic. Or something like that. And then some of us would run out and buy Brand X because some famous person said that he would buy Brand X.

Doesn’t it remind you of high school?  Can’t we do better than this?

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Category: Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Monica Kozeny says:

    Totally!! That is exactly what it is like

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    I actually had teachers in high school who said that "these are the best years of our lives."

    My response always was, "You mean that it gets even worse?"

    Apparently the "worse" is mainly in aspects of life that mimic the adolescent experience, like the quadrennial popularity contest for head honcho in this nation.

    As to branding like these political slinging matches: Don't you remember the campaign for Pepsi that portrayed Coke drinkers as elderly fogeys? It had to do with whom Coke heads associated, rather than any subtle difference between the products. It was so successful that Coke, in desperation, reformulated and rebranded its trademark brew to dissociate itself from … itself.

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