As much as we love our children, the cold, hard fact is that we frequently lie to them in order to give them hope, which, in this world, is often in short supply. As far as I’m concerned, that’s totally ne. Adults recognize the harshness of a world that seems determined to discourage the next generation, so we manufacture comforting fiction to soften the blow and keep them in line (at least somewhat). How else do you explain countless fantastical tales throughout history, from stories of Greek gods to the annual appearance of Santa Claus to certain beliefs about what will cause hair to grow on your palms?
Most of these stories are innocent and well-intentioned. They tend to achieve the desired e ect of keeping our kids believing in the unbelievable and living the good lives we want them to live. There is, however, one complete and total lie we have spun for years that may be doing far more harm than good. It has wreaked havoc on our entire democratic system. We tell America’s future leaders that if they work and study hard, any of them, no matter where they came from, can one day be President of the United States.
Presidential candidates want you to believe in this fiction because it humanizes them. They spend huge chunks of their day trying to portray themselves as men and women “from Main Street and not from Wall Street,” each one attempting to out- ordinary the next by sharing everything from stories of immigrant parents to childhood newspaper routes to their favorite barbecue recipes.
However, claiming they truly feel the plight of average Americans is like hearing them say they’re connoisseurs of Mexican cuisine because they’ve sampled the late night menu at Taco Bell. It’s pretty hollow reasoning and produces nothing but a lot of hot air. I’m reasonably certain this was not quite what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they set this whole democracy thing in motion.
In fact, they took great pains to keep the requirements for leading this nation as minimal as possible. It’s more complicated to get a Costco membership card than it is to make a run at the presidency. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution specifically states: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”
And that’s it. Turn 21 and you can drink. Turn 25 and you get a better rate on your auto insurance. Turn 35 and you can be the Commander in Chief. It all seems so simple. Which is may- be why we constantly remind our kids that someday it could be them. It really does seem that almost no one is ruled out of this race. At least that’s how it feels if you spend three minutes viewing any cable news outlet once the election cycle starts spinning. I could swear that at one point, the only person not running for the Republican presidential nomination was that crazy old guy you see arguing with cashiers at the grocery store. And even he would have led if he weren’t so busy watching Clint Eastwood movies and telling the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn.
So what are voters to do? We’re stuck between a rock and some head cases. On one hand, we all say we want a leader who can personally relate to the struggles of low- and middle-income Americans. On the other hand, we don’t want to waste our votes on candidates who can’t win. I’m not gullible enough to fall for the aforementioned lie that any of us can grow up to be president. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to at least find some candidates you’d enjoy having a beer and burger with? There has to be somebody out there running for president with the compassion of FDR, the folksiness of Harry Truman, the intellect of Stephen Hawking and the straight talk of your college roommate.
I knew that none of these people would ever get elected. But that wasn’t the point. The point was just to try. If we’re also going to stick with that other great political lie — that every vote is important — I was really just doing what we all fantasize we’d do if we could. I was going to find the best person to hand my vote over to, regardless of what the outcome might be. Somebody has to, right? It’s fun to complain about our broken political system. Yet if the final answer is to vote for the most likely winner, that’s not the best path toward any change. The only way to make a difference is to search for somebody capable of making a difference, regardless of what school they went to or how much money they have or what kind of fast food they order. We need candidates who are told they can’t do this.