We Need A Useless Election to Fritter About
The GOP presidential candidate debates have dragged on long enough that the contenders have finally had to proffer up policy suggestions for lack of anything else to yammer about. This is a departure from the last six months, during which time American journalism mostly uncovered frivolous twaddle about each prospective nominee, such as which summer camps they attended as children, root beer preferences, and generally anything you would want to see documented on a TV dating game show or an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
There are only two criteria by which you should select a candidate: policy goals, and their ability to implement them. Yet many of our friends and neighbors vote based on gut feelings and likability. My idea: separate the two impulses into two separate offices.
America is divided on selection methods. I don’t know a lot about Haley Barbour, and by all accounts he’s quite competent, but he lacks the requisite sex appeal to ever become White House prom queen. By all rights Ron Paul should be hoisted atop a shield and proclaimed Imperator of the Tea Party, but unfortunately his voice is two octaves too high to sound sufficiently virile to the conservative base. (Or, perhaps, due to the machinations of a few media conglomerates with vested interests in bulging defense contractors.)
Things like tax structure, international political economy and which psychopathic dictators to arm and subsequently carpet bomb are complex matters. These are not subjects you can determine by square jawlines or competency in “being tall.”
Yet useless factors such as sex appeal, relatability and how adorable a family is predominate in national electoral waffling. If we applied the same soup-skin level of analysis to other fields of life, travelers would patron only airlines staffed by pilots who could prove they never forgot their wedding anniversaries, and brain tumor patients would winnow their surgeons by a process involving who had the most amenable Facebook profile.
Pop quiz: Tell me about Rick Perry’s childhood. Detail the size of his home town and his parents’ relative income level. What is Mitt Romney’s religion? What was his upbringing like? Most likely you could write a few paragraphs on those prompts.
Now, for the second half of the quiz: provide any one of Governor Romney’s fifty-nine point jobs plan. Just one. Stumped? Sum up Governor Perry’s position on NAFTA.
See my point?
So let’s start two separate elections. Schedule the presidential election for whichever day in November weathermen predict will be the most dismal and therefore irritating to reach the polls on. Then create a separate office, National Spokesman of America, and vote for him or her on a Saturday via a preset button on TV remote controls.
To a large extent we already vote for both functions in each election. Every term an obligatory weirdo runs for National Chaplain under the guise of POTUS. This time around it’s Santorum. Huckabee took a stab at it last time, with Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton vying in the preceding election.
The position I’m envisioning would be an utterly powerless “national opinion” figurehead meant to embody the will of America. A little like the harmless, European variety of royalty who cut ribbons and inbreed. Except ours would be allowed, in fact encouraged, to render fiery oration at every opportunity. This person would feel your pain, and yell about it.
We could also toss them an official duty or two, like shaking hands with second-world dignitaries when Joe Biden is off playing laser tag, or naming post offices after likeable dead guys. But for the most part the National Spokesman of America would be a release valve for people who only really want to cast their vote in a culture war. Do we want America’s righteous mouthpiece to be a folksy “take no crap” cowboy or an erudite Ivy Leaguer? Personally, I think half the electorate votes just to try and make sure that a guy with similar diction to themselves is the one who winds up attending international summits.
You might think that this national spokesman, christened to embody the will of our nation, would use the bully pulpit to strong-arm or push legislative feats. To this I say: The president doesn’t even do that now. Obama is a brilliant orator, but his glittering speeches appear to have about the same affect on the economy as trying to make turnips grow by shouting at them.
Al Sharpton and Sarah Palin are both prime contenders for what I’m talking about. Folks with a deep, thunderous interest in government without actually wanting to personally run the government. A national spokesman election between the two would certainly overshadow the 2012 Election of Obama vs. Not Obama. Whoever won the presidency, as a result of the dearth of media attention, might actually have time enough to slink off to the Oval Office and authorize moon drilling or or a negative income tax or whatnot.
Right now the presidency has dual roles– commander-in-chief as well as zeitgeist avatar. Obama largely got elected because we liked the notion of a young, articulate egg head in the Oval Office. (Remember how he won a Nobel Prize for the grand accomplishment of being himself?) In the previous election The Party of Tiny Government suspiciously doubled-down on George Bush, a man who pole-vaulted the National Debt and inflated several federal departments like cheap blowup dolls. Mostly because a significant voting bloc could relate to a dude who smirks a lot and enjoys killing animals with rifles.
Separating the presidency into two offices, one for policy formation and one for cultural declaration, does not at all strike me as a bad idea.
Play along with me. For 2012, what are the ideal presidential tickets? And who is your preferred National Spokesman of America?
Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.