Last week I blogged about the glut of campaign signs stuck in yards and medians during the last election. To briefly recap, I’m not sure I understand how these signs are supposed to work (an election being more than a popularity contest, after all), and I have concerns about how the yard they’re in, and/or the other signs stuck in that yard, might muddy a candidate’s image or position. And yet, I can see why signs are popular: voters don’t have to seek them out, and they match our attention spans. At the end of that post, I promised to come back this week to describe an alternative to these signs. Well, here I am.
But before I continue, I think a preamble is in order. I want to be clear that what follows is a humor piece. I think a few people took my last post a bit too seriously. Not that my feelings on campaign signs aren’t sincere; it’s just that my main goal was to entertain, and to me, any awareness I raised, and any dialogue I sparked, were just gravy.
I am not a very political person. I am sincerely glad that there are people who want to get involved in City Council, because I don’t personally feel that calling. I get most of my news from “The Onion,” and am so steeped in irony and satire I forget that people take things seriously. Somebody even fell for my fictional restaurant review, and posted a comment—later retracted—about it being illegal to hunt or take marine mammals for food. I apologize for not being clearer that that was a spoof.
Similarly, it never occurred to me, when describing a conflict between a candidate and a campaign sign, that anybody would see himself or herself in that scenario. Believe me, as far as I knew that was a purely hypothetical conflict—I’m not nearly so well informed as to actually spot such a thing.
So, to recap: I’m a big joker and what follows is just for laughs, okay?
Now. Believe it or not, I have the solution for how City Council candidates can reach the voters in a meaningful way instead of just sticking signs in people’s yards. My proposal is a simple matter of retooling the template for the voter guide statement, to give these statements the extra oomph they need.
I got my idea from the statements of support and opposition for the ballot propositions. It’s a nice debate, in literary form. I love the idea of a campaign hinging on the quality of the prose that the candidate can create. You get one shot at convincing the voters … don’t blow it. (In a perfect world, these statements would actually be in , to showcase the candidate’s intellectual mettle.)
So, instead of a general paragraph from the candidate that simply states what kinds of issues he or she is interested in and what he or she supports, the first section of the candidate statement would be an essay answering a basic question: what is your dream legislation? In other words, if you could push through any new law you wanted, what would it be? The answer to this question would get to the core of each candidate’s values.
Here’s an example: “My dream legislation would be this: automakers selling to this market would be required to install special switches in car horns that would cause the airbag to deploy if the horn is held down for more than two seconds.”
Here’s another: “I would push through an annual ‘Composting Holiday.’ One day a year, residents would be allowed to throw their compost in the garbage pail like they used to, guilt-free. This would raise awareness for composting while giving everybody a much-needed break.”
And: “To make bicycling safer for everyone, riding with headphones would be against the law, punishable by having the police officer smash your MP3 player with his nightstick while you watch.”
A final example: “I would introduce a ‘Teen Texting Tariff.’ Cell-provider accounting relays would count every cell phone text message sent by every teenager. Each text would ‘cost’ one minute of community service. Twice per year, teenagers would report for their work detail, which would consist of something like cleaning up a park or building a community garden. These would be phone-free events where teens could commiserate, non-virtually, while giving back to the community they have so abused by being rude, pithed, glazed-over phone-zombies 24x7.”
The other change to the voter guide statements would be the introduction of formalized attacks, like the attack ads that are so successful in the national elections. I know this sounds a bit nutty, but consider for a moment that an attack ad says as much about the attacker as it does about his target.
For example, during the very first election I was old enough to vote in, I remember George H.W. Bush calling Michael Dukakis a “tax-and-spend liberal.” I was puzzled, thinking, “That’s so weird. Bush says that like it’s a bad thing.”
Attack ads might be tricky for Albany City Council candidates, since their ideologies don’t actually vary that much. It’s not like in this last go-round we had a candidate saying, “I just moved here from Houston, where things are done right, and I’m gonna turn this backwards town around!” But I’m sure there are ways for our best and brightest to find fault. Since I don’t have any dirt on our actual candidates from this last election, I’ll provide examples of how they might have attacked me, had I been running against them.
For starters: “Albert can’t even get his kids to school on time. I often see him racing down the sidewalk with his daughter on his bike, after the bell has rung, and she’s begging him to go faster. If he can’t manage this simple task on his own kid’s behalf, how is he going to be effective in government?”
Or: “Sources close to Albert have told me that he often flips through his wife’s ‘Victoria’s Secret’ catalogs, even though there’s nothing in them that he could possibly buy. I think we all know what he’s looking at, and it’s not the sizing charts!”
Perhaps: “Sources close to Albert have told me he sometimes throws used tea bags right into the trash can. And yet he claims to support composting!”
A final example: “Albert is completely out of touch with this community. While everybody else was celebrating the Giants’ victory in the World Series, he was barely aware of it. I mentioned it to him and he said, ‘Um, yeah, that was great. We beat the Houston Oilers, right?’”
So there you have it. If I had to sum up my strategy in a blurb that would fit on a campaign sign, I guess I’d put it this way: “The pen is mightier than the sign.” But you won’t find that message in anybody’s yard in 2014.