The only fanfare I was awarded after being elected class president at my high school a few years ago was a garbled bulletin over the public address system. This was exactly the kind of prestige that had first attracted me to the position.
Despite having been elected to high office, I remained wholly ignorant of my school’s constitution (if we even have one), and certainly couldn’t have named more than one or two of my predecessors — and you know what, this ignorance was completely acceptable, because my responsibilities were limited to peddling green-and-gold T-shirts, and performing rousing skits at assemblies.
I have this nagging feeling, though, that when it comes to our United States government, we expect a little more than rousing skits. In fact, from what I’ve gathered in my introductory government class so far this year, members of Congress have all kinds of tiresome duties, not the least of which is making actual laws.
So I must admit I’m baffled by the sudden apparent charm of the uneducated neophyte in politics. I’m baffled by the idea that phrases such as “Washington insider” and “career politician” are necessarily slurs, and that it is only the least-seasoned, least-informed candidates who can possibly represent “real people.”
Personally, I would not feel well-represented by Christine O’Donnell, Delaware Republicans’ candidate for Senate who, it was uncovered during a recent debate, had absolutely no idea as to the contents of the First Amendment. In a 2007 interview, O’Donnell expounded upon her belief that scientific companies throughout America were creating genetically enhanced “mice with fully functioning human brains.”
I also would not feel well-represented by the South Carolina Democrats’ offering for Senate, Alvin Greene. Two other South Carolina lawmakers raised quite earnest concerns that Greene might be suffering from some kind of mental impairment, and when asked to comment, Greene said, “I say that back to them, then.”
For that matter, I wouldn’t feel very well-represented by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, if she decided to seek public office again. I know it’s old news by now, but I was appalled back in 2008 when she was unable to name either a single Supreme Court decision she disagreed with or a single magazine she enjoyed.
Now, obviously politicians should be allowed a certain amount of slack, because when you’re answering questions in front of a camera as often as they are, it’s impossible not to sound inarticulate or just plain wrong at least occasionally. But these aren’t gaffes. These aren’t quotes that have been twisted out of context in order to mislead people. These are simply candidates who are anything but intelligent — who honestly have to be seen in all their sputtering, rambling, empty-eyed glory to be believed.
What’s most worrying is that these very traits — the candidates’ lack of knowledge about the government they are intent on joining, or their inability to fully understand the issues facing the country they want to serve — are being touted as virtues. In some cases, these candidates’ more experienced, more well-versed opponents end up backpedaling furiously, trying to paint themselves as “outsiders” too.
It’s an odd set of priorities, to be sure. I doubt anyone would be in such a frenzy to hire a math teacher who couldn’t simplify a polynomial, or a priest who didn’t know Leviticus from Lucifer.
I’m hardly the first to point any of this out. But what I’d like to do is extend my gratitude, as a first-time voter, to Washington state. Because as I gave my ballot some final reflection, although there were certainly some candidates with whom I agreed more than others, none of them were stupid.
Emerson Hardebeck, a senior at Timberline High School and editor-in-chief of Timberline’s student newspaper “The Blazer,” is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.