After Herman Cain’s inability to address a fairly standard question of foreign policy a few weeks ago, I’m tempted to liken his knowledge of platform (or lack thereof) to that of an underclassmen USG candidate. But that might be doing a disservice to Cain. Zing!
Walking around campus over the past few months, I couldn’t help but be struck by the painfully trite efforts of student government hopefuls, particularly those aiming for positions as underclassmen officers and senators: posters, plastered throughout hallways; greeting cards taped to doors; and, of course, more posters, plastered throughout the same hallways. On first glance, it would seem that at Princeton, the only difference between a student government election and an arts-and-crafts fair is the voting process that concludes it. Zing, again!
But if my frustration with USG elections ended at poster making, I’d be little more than a pedant. Perhaps, then, I’ll posit a second difference: an arts-and-crafts fair would feature a certain amount of creativity and originality. Examining candidates’ policy statements, my eyes grow weary with the same promises of “cool class gear” and “awesome study breaks,” all aimed at “creating a cohesive class” and “having the best year ever!” (Not only are study breaks and class gear next-to-last on my agenda of ‘Things I Care About at Princeton,’ but also, for the record, our class gear isn’t even that “cool.”) Occasionally, we get promises to improve the ply of our toilet paper—bravo, candidate! You’ve quite literally reduced your importance to that of comfort when shitting.
The level of emptiness in these platforms has led many of these “passionate,” “devoted,” and, judging by campaign slogans, alliteratively inclined candidates to channel much of their policy inadequacy into policy itself; by this, I’m referencing the move to claim that a candidate’s policy is “your policy,” or “your desires”—the move that defers genuine ideas and instead insists that a candidate’s role will be solely to listen to his peers. Listening to the electorate is a virtue, and a necessary quality for any candidate; but, devoid of concrete- ness, standing alone as a platform’s foundations, it begins to look like an excuse for a lack of inspiration or in- novation. (Note: if it simply isn’t possible to compose policy ideas that are
both original and feasible, perhaps that says something about the USG itself—I will entertain the idea, but refrain from commenting further.)
Speaking of concreteness, it might be productive to provide an example of a specific candidate’s campaign. To avoid being too cruel or provid- ing any sort of publicity, I’ll keep the candidate anonymous. On opening the candidate’s webpage, we’re greeted with a hearty and refreshing “Elect [candidate] for Senate for one simple reason: he’s here to serve you.” Okay, I guess I saw that one coming. Navigating to the platform page, we see a couple of trends: firstly, the candidate’s main area of concern seems to be USG-student body communication: three of his selling points are based on surveys, email updates, and blog posts. More ways to hear about how he’s executing our vision! Moving on, the candidate lists a couple of current USG projects that he’s interested in continuing. Again, novelty.
But the candidate’s campaign video is what really did it for me. Panning through the Princeton campus, the video snaps back and forth between current students, transitioning through their comments on the “strong sense of community,” which the candidate describes as “the reason [he’s] here,” fading elegantly into
view as iMovie does its work. I was hooked. Until I heard the candidate’s concluding statement: “And to make this journey everything we could imagine—maybe even more—I’m asking you to do just one thing: to believe.” Okay, now he’s making it too easy. This just doesn’t mean anything! Nothing at all! I don’t even have anything to say about it.
This degree of abstraction, this synthetic, contrived stance towards campaigning, is found everywhere: in the slogans (e.g., “Image something better”), the ‘policies,’ the door-to-door candy handouts/vote requests— and particularly in the candidates who end up winning. In the future, I ask you then, to do one of two things: either press candidates for genuine reasons to receive your vote, genu- ine policies that they’re considered, and genuine traits that make them stand out (I think most of the people at this school would call themselves “passionate” and “hardworking” and “dedicated”); or, if you’re not so inclined, and can’t find a reason to dig deeper, don’t vote—don’t throw your support behind the best poster maker; it only eggs them on.