Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Everything I need to know about politics, I learned in sixth grade

When I was kid in sixth grade, Jeff Bestwick was running for student body president.

I don't know if, these days, sixth graders still elect a student body president - my son is in sixth grade and I haven't heard beans about it. But in my day, elementary school elections were supposed to introduce you to the American democratic process and teach you how our government worked. A lady from the local polling station came and gave us a lecture on voting machines. She brought a huge mechanical tabulator and we all got to flip the switches and pull the lever behind the curtain, like being the Wiz in the land of Oz. I remember thinking it was very exciting.

Now, Jeff, he was a slick kid, handsome and popular. His opposition was a girl, who's name long escapes me. I do remember that she was a bookishly practical girl, and that I didn't like her very much.

Even at that age, you could tell Jeff was destined for big things. He had perfect hair. He played sports. His parents had money. He was a straight A student. And there was little doubt that he would go on to a good college on some kind of scholarship and then on to a nice tidy life in law, or medicine, or politics. He was one of those kids that others gravitated to. I worked on his campaign, making posters. We all donated our lunch money to buy posterboard and markers and material to make campaign buttons. We stayed after school to work on the posters, and I often walked a couple of miles home instead of riding the bus because of it, but I was happy to be part of the process. Some of the mothers made cookies for us, and we had a lot of fun. Being from a poor family and none too popular, I was flattered to be one of the outer circle. Jeff even complimented me on my poster making abilities. He was a great guy.

And he was also a consummate bullshit artist.

The key plank in his election platform, pretty much the only plank, was a soda machine. Soda (pop, as everybody called it in Michigan) was a big deal to us kids. The only pop machine in the school was in the teacher's lounge, but us students didn't have access to it. Jeff promised us that if we voted for him he'd get us a pop machine. Cool. The opposition candidate, on the other had, was a real wet blanket. She said that a soda machine wasn't a good idea. She'd talked to the principle about it and her parents and she felt that it simply wasn't practical. She said there were more important thing we should be thinking about. I don't remember what those things were, but I do remember thinking she was just a Stupid Girl (I was eleven, sue me).

Jeff told us what we wanted to hear, in fact he made that soda machine sound like a done deal and you could practically taste those icy cold beverages when he spoke. Consequently he was swept into office on a wave of popular support. The Stupid Girl faded into the mists of history and the blurry depths of my increasingly fuzzy memory.

We never did see that soda machine though. Turns out that there were practical problems involving cost, regulations, nutrition, and President Bestwick just couldn't make good on his promises. He shrugged, smiled his winning smile composed of perfect orthodontic work, and said he'd done the best he could but it was out of his hands. And he never complimented me on my drawing abilities again, and he never thanked me for my support. In fact, he rarely ever spoke to me again, even though we rode the same bus daily until high school graduation and lived only a block or so apart.

You know, it's been forty years since Jeff Bestwick was Rosewood Elementary School's student body president, and his failure to live up to his campaign promises still chaps my ass. However, despite the fact that I spent my formative years without being able to enjoy a nice cool soft drink, I don't hold anything against Jeff because he did teach me some valuable lessons about politics and politicians. Things that have served me well over the last four decades:

1) Haircuts and hot air are directly proportional, i.e. the more money a politician spends on his haircut, the more full of shit he is. This is an infallible indicator of character. If he's got good hair, you're not getting the soda machine.

2) Politicians always tell you what you think you want to hear, always. With that in mind, you should probably figure out what it is that you really want. Are you sure that what you really want is a soda machine?

3) Popular kids don't give a crap about you, unless they need your vote. After they get your vote, they will go back to listening exclusively to their friends - until they need your vote again. They bring their own soda, and they don't share.

4) Rich kids don't give a crap about you, unless they need your lunch money. The more lunch money you have, the more they care about your concerns. If you've got enough lunch money, you can buy your own soda machine.

5) Politicians make promises on the campaign trail with their fingers crossed behind their backs. I.e. you're not getting the soda machine.

6) Don't expect to be remembered for your support or your sacrifice. I.e. the President's mom probably won't give you a lift home, even though you missed the bus working on her son's campaign. He'll wave as they go past, drinking a soda.

7) Sometimes there are cookies, but no soda. Cookies are cheap. Soda is expensive.

8) The teachers have the real power. I.e. you're not getting the soda machine.

9) Don't waste your vote on people you like or want to like you. Vote for those who can get the job done, even if you don't like them, even if they don't tell you what you want to hear, even if they don't have good hair, even if their mom doesn't make you cookies. I.e. you're not getting the soda machine, get used to it.

10) Always listen to the Stupid Girl, she's not nearly as stupid as you think she is. I.e. there's a reason why she didn't promise you a soda machine.

11) History doesn't remember the losers, even if they were right. Even if they bring soda.

12) You're not getting the soda machine.


John Edwards, "I am committed to getting all troops out of Iraq within the first year of my presidency..."

Rudy Gulliani, "It's playing out the way we thought it would..."

Hillary Clinton, "I call my plan, the American Health Choices plan. ... If you have private insurance you like, nothing changes..."

Barrack Obama, “...we would immediately put some additional dollars in the pockets of American families..."

John McCain, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned." AND "I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade..."

Mike Huckabee, "If you have the time and the luxury of going to Congress, that's always better ..."

There's more, a lot more, but I'll stop there.

Yeah, nice hair. Got any cookies? How about a soda?


  1. It doesn't seem like anyone here is telling you that you won't get the soda machine.

    Mike Bloomberg is looking better and better to me and regardless of whether or not he'd ultimately get my vote, I'm pretty sure he'd tell us we can't have a soda machine.

  2. Apropros of nothing, except your perfect hair descriptor...

    When I was in 5th & 6th grade, my friends and I had a name for those kids that had perfect hair.

    They were called GCCs, for Garbage Can Crowders, because there were so many of them gathered around the mirror, we couldn't get to the trash can to throw away are paper towels after washing our hands.

    Of course, when I was in 5th & 6th grade, when the GCCs would say, "You're WEIRD!" I'd simply say thank you and walk away.

    To bad I lost all that self-assuredness when I switched schools the following year.

  3. For the record, Michelle, I always liked the weird girls. They were much more interesting.

  4. I was a weird, unpopular girl, too. In retrospect, I rocked. At the time, I thought I was a loser, but didn't know why.

  5. I was a weird geeky girl with good grades and few social skills too - and far from perfect hair.

    I remember when I was in high school they started selling butane curling irons, and the popular big hair girls would be in the bathroom with the curling irons and hairspray until you couldn't breathe in there.

    I never owned a butane curling iron. :) And you certainly wouldn't be able to take something like that to school today, it'd be classified as a gang weapon or something!

    So if perfect hair and trustworthiness are inversely related, who is the most untrustworthy on the campaign trail?

  6. John Edwards of course. He's got Ken hair.

  7. So if perfect hair and trustworthiness are inversely related, who is the most untrustworthy on the campaign trail?

    Well, it's either Edwards or Romney, both have pretty spiffy hair

  8. Yeah, Ken hair. What Anne said, that's what I meant

  9. Uh? Say what?

    Butane powered curling iron? Butane powered? I'm picturing some kind of Tim Taylor chain saw deal here.

  10. A quick google search indicates that they still sell them:

    Butane Curling Iron

    But back in high school in the late 70s/early 80s they were orange and semi collapsible. I think they were called "clickers".

    Also, Google informs me that the IATA rules supposedly allow them on the plane in carryon luggage - but no extra butane cartridges are permitted. I feel so safe now! ;)

  11. Jim, for some odd reason -- maybe the four-year soda machine promise cycle? -- this seems as relevant today as it did when you wrote it.

    May I link to it on FB? With full credit to Your Awesomeness, of course? ;)

    Yea or nay, this is a well-written piece. Good job. Reminded me of kids I knew in school.

    Tom Burkhalter


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