Unfortunately, this article is about elections.
Even more unfortunately, this article will reiterate an idea already beaten to death by hundreds of collegiate neo-hippies, which is that elections are — wait for it — not about the issues.
A few weeks ago, students that were running for SGA and RHA tried to ensure that no one within reasonable vicinity could eat, study or even pee without thinking about these elections. Brightly colored fliers competed for wall space and loud, propaganda-like banners hung from the decks of the DUC, all following the same logic behind cereal jingles: the stupider it is, the catchier it is.
It works. One day I found myself pausing in front of a neon sheet of paper with a picture of one of the SGA freshman candidates wearing a suit and a tie and a smile worthy of an Orbit gum commercial. The only thing that could have added to this gleaming portrait of political prowess was if the picture caught him candidly posed while saving an underprivileged orphan. And of course underneath was the requisite cheesy pun on his name.
In this moment, I actually thought, “I’m going to vote for him because he looks like a politician,” a rationalization only one step removed from the classic “I’m going to vote for Kennedy because he’s good-looking!”
This fleeting thought yanked me back to a horrible, suppressed memory from sixth grade when I ran for some school government position or another. I don’t even remember what the position was, but point is, I ran for this position and had a pretty good speech for someone who was still required to take “Reading” as a subject. Yet, I lost. It so happened that, as I pretend-casually nosed around after the results, I learned that the majority of Ralph’s voters chose him because he “seemed cool” and had “cool posters.”
So is every election just like being 12 and running for sixth grade class president again?
This is what I’m forced to believe, judging from the scores of “cool posters” I’ve seen catch people’s attention. In my residence hall, I saw just one lonely poster that detailed some issues that the candidate cared about and wanted to change. Just one.
Obviously, this person didn’t win.
The only reason that elections are repeatedly won for the wrong reasons, and that elections are “never about the issues,” however, is because the voters make it that way. For some reason, we’d just rather vote for someone who has cool graphics on their campaign poster than someone who has legitimate ideas.
Maybe this is because the silly slogans and themes that were used for SGA and RHA elections stem from a slightly more calculated place. After all, Sen. Obama’s campaign theme of “change” is in essence not very different from the ones we’ve seen around our own college. It’s catchy, it’s uncomplicated, it’s positive — and this is far from a complaint against him. Just the opposite.
Not only does this slogan make you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, but it shows a certain efficiency that a leader should have. By using this word as the focal point around which his campaign revolves, Obama has led thousands of voters across the country to feel a little hope despite staring a terrible environment, a war that’s spanned five years and a drastic economic recession in the face. And in a sad way, I think that’s what all these SGA and RHA candidates were trying to do with their fluorescent posters and bad puns.
So maybe Ralph knew what he was doing all along.
Maybe he knew that any election, regardless of what kind of scale its on, really just boils down to the kind of candy you pass out in class. Maybe at age 12, he already knew how he wanted to project himself and how he wanted to make people feel. And maybe that’s really all that politics is, at any level.
Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.