On Elections

For some reason, the current election seasn has reminded me of the first year of the new student-government election system back at school. One year's council decided to pass a constitutional amendment, binding on the next year's council (they also left their successors with an unexpected $20,000 debt; it was that kind of a council), requiring them to move to a system in which the president and vice-president, instead of being elected by the council itself, would be elected by the student body as a whole, or at least by those who took an interest in such things, by no means a particularly large slice of the student body. The actual details of this system -- little things like when the elections would be, how long the terms office would run, who would be eligible to run, how the campaign would be conducted -- were left entirely up to the incoming council.

All of the important decisions were made at the tail end of a four-hour-plus meeting, which started at 8 PM on a Sunday night, the Sunday of the last week before the absolute latest deadline to actually write down a set of regulations for the first election. The council got kicked out of their meeting hall at something like 11, and moved to the dining area of the student commons to finish up the meeting. Probably the most contentious issue was campaign financing. After a truly memorable debate ("if somoene running for president finds some scraps of wood by the side of the highway and makes a campaign sign out of them, does that count against their spending limit?"), the council voted to impose a $100 spending cap, the whole of which would be publicly financed by the council.

I was against this idea, personally -- I wanted to have fully-financed elections, yes, but I wanted the dollar figure to be set at $0, and spare us all the waste and empty shouts of mass-Xeroxed 8.5"x11" campaign posters blanketing the campus -- but in hindsight, I was wrong. That money was well spent, in terms of the total entertainment value those first elections supplied. [In a surprise development that should have surprised no one (free money for your campaign, anyone?), there were about three times as many candidates as expected, which nearly plunged the council back into the financial crisis it had just pulled itself out of by the skin of its teeth]. True, there were a lot of dumb posters. But in a field with ten candidates, people started getting awfully creative in the fight to stand out from the crowd. One candidate hired a spokesman: a well-known panhandler and homeless-people's-newspaper salesman from the town, who reprised his famous "hey, big guy! hey, lovely lady!" schtick in front of the science building. But my favorite was our honest-to-goodness demagogue.

It's a commonplace that demagogues drape themselves in the flag. Well, this guy did it for real. He used the $100 to buy a bullhorn (The Man, noticing the potential personal-profit loophole in the financing rules, required him to turn it in after the election), then had his followers wheel him around campus in a shopping cart, with an American flag around his shoulders, as he preached his message of revolution through the bullhorn. The administration was a bit worried about the noise potential, until, during a discussion of the issue, someone noticed that Flag Boy was directly under the window of the office where the discussion was taking place, and that his words were not only completely unintelligible, but completely inaudible, as well.