Groupthink

The next president should speak English - not Newspeak from his or her special-interest mouth.

Installing urinal dividers in the men’s bathrooms was the hot button issue for my classmates campaigning to be high school class president. The candidates in favor accused the school of sexist bathroom policies – privacy was limited to the women’s rooms. And the candidates opposed to the stall dividers contended that the money allocated for urinal dividers could be spent more productively in other areas – like more pop machines in the lunchroom.

This debate was the top concern in my classmates’ decision-making process. Hallway discussions about our future commander in chief revolved around the prospect of who was the most concerned about protecting the boys using the bathroom, and who posed the greatest threat to this privacy. And of course there were dissenters who criticized the topic of being irrelevant to the high school experience. What does it matter whether we have stall dividers or not? Do we really need more varieties of pop? Shouldn’t boys learn to pee confidently?

Admittedly, I was one of the dissenters. My high school’s student council was infiltrated by demagogues, clueless to issues that are really of importance to education (though at the time the extent of my criticism was “This is stupid”). As my five-year high school reunion grows nearer, and the cruel hand of reality has slapped me around enough with issues pertaining to concerns far beyond urinals, I’ve realized that whether this is an inessential issue for campaign platforms, or it’s just a reflection of the limited power held by high school class presidents, at least they were vocal about matters important to them – which is more than any of my presidential candidates can say for themselves today.

It’s bothersome when a nugatory issue like urinal dividers trumps any issue at all. The presidential candidates’ soapbox today belongs more in a high school auditorium, while those at the table in high school were far more suitable for the discussions taking place in Iowa.

Who has more experience? Who has planned to run for president longer? Whose religion is morally superior? Which campaign has received more donations?

Maybe Hillary was showing too much cleavage during the C-SPAN 2 debate. And yes, John Edwards spent $400 on a haircut so unoriginal anyone with a pair of shears could replicate it. But do these matters really resemble candidates’ voting record? Or how they will address the problems that concern citizens?

To his credit, Republican Rudy Giuliani has made an effort in addressing some issues – albeit they are nearly the polar opposite to the positions he once campaigned on to get him elected in the first place. Perhaps the only time to desert the typically superficial methods is when you have to superficially remold your platform to fit the voter base you wish to appeal to. Giuliani, of course, only discusses his platform when he’s not defending himself from his mentorship of Bernard Kerik, the father of Giuliani’s god-son, about Keriks’ indictment and connection with the mafia in evading taxes, and using a budgeted New York City apartment for the Sept. 11 relief effort as a bungalow for an affair.

“Divorce” is the only word that encapsulates the presidential campaigns. In the literal sense it’s quite pertinent to Giuliani and McCain, but figuratively it’s applicable to all candidates. The trend in politics today is avoiding anything important – a “divorce” from both in the public sphere and personal accomplishment. Had my high school peers the need to exemplify their devotion to installing dividers in the bathrooms, I assure you they would have handcuffed themselves to their desks until their word was heard. None of the presidential candidates demonstrate this devotion to their core values. I suppose a history of failed marriages doesn’t coincide with a campaign rooted in family values.

Maybe the candidates have spent too much time in Iowa, avoiding their Senatorial duties in the capital of obfuscation, forgetting that their job was once to parley in principle. Or maybe it’s because they’re writing autobiographies to introduce themselves to the American public, which in fact, proves that ghosts do exist.

We know so little about the current crop of candidates that if they had to decide on urinal dividers, they’d have to parse their words and take a poll. What are these candidates about, and why are they afraid to tell us?

America obviously needs another middle-aged candidate with a law degree, but one of the qualifications this time around should be that they speak English – not the Newspeak from their special-interest mouths.

Jake Perron welcomes comments at [email protected]