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The disillusionment of young Citizen Dope

November 9, 2012
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

I have voted in every election since I was first allowed to register in 1968. Nonetheless, I loathe politics. Then again, what is there not to loathe?

First, there's the two party system. Two parties - that's a choice? You've got to be kidding me. We're in a country where anywhere you go you can find 112 different kinds of soda, 68 different breakfast cereals, and 54 different beers, and we're supposed to think two presidential candidates is a choice?

Plus, if after two years you've got a complete loser on your hands, you're stuck with him for another two years. In a parliamentary system, you can throw the bums out anytime.

Next there's the electoral system. OK, I admit I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy. But using an election system in 2012 that was valid in 1787, when news travelled at a snail's pace, is ridiculous. And if you believe winning the popular vote but losing the election makes sense in a democracy, you're a bigger dope than me.

The Electoral College? Get real. I've got no respect for any college that doesn't have varsity sports, cheerleaders, and a homecoming weekend.

Beyond all that, there's the candidates themselves. Doesn't matter who they are, what party they're in, or who's in the wings filling their war chests with loot, they all promise the same things. Oh, maybe not the same things in a literal sense, but the same things in a political one, since whatever they promise they won't deliver. You don't need to be either a mind reader or lip reader to know that.


The sweet beginning

My hatred of politics started in childhood, most precisely in fall, 1958. It was the beginning of seventh grade, which for me was the exact opposite of Seventh Heaven.

When I look back on it, grade school was the longest - and best-vacation I ever had. I did almost no work, got good grades, and was the life of the party, tra-la, tra-la.

But once I hit seventh grade, everything hit the fan. I was assigned all kinds of homework, but did almost none of it. This made me a dunce, only without the official title or cap. Socially, I wasn't a flop, but only because I was a nonentity. I considered myself worldly, but that's because I lived in a fantasy world.

But at least I believed I lived in a just and orderly country, ruled by the kind and competent. Unfortunately, that comfort was destroyed before my very eyes about the third week of school, with the elections for class officers.

In grade school we never had officers, since we were all just a bunch of pishers from whom nothing was expected. But not so for seventh grade. Uh-uh. We'd left Romper Room and had strutted our stuff into Grown Up World, and there was no turning back. Now, because we were "adults," we were expected to act the part, which consisted of getting an official set of leaders to show us the way. And since this is the US of A, we'd get our leaders through that great democratic tradition - a free election.


and the bitter end

This was all explained to us by our seventh grade history teacher, Miss Kiernan. I thought it odd she was telling us about democracy and freedom, since she was a despotic old bitty. Nonetheless, the chore fell on her bony shoulders and she rose to the occasion.

We were going to experience the best a democracy had to offer, she told us. We could pick whoever we wanted for whichever office. And best of all, we'd do it by writing our choices on slips of paper, so it was completely anonymous - no one would ever know who we voted for. Pretty heady stuff for a naive little Dope. Open elections? Freedom of choice? Secret ballot? That was what real adults did in real elections, when they voted for Ike, FDR, Norman Thomas, and all those others.

Fixing us with a gimlet eye and poking her index claw at the sky for emphasis, Miss Kiernan concluded this was one more thing the Russians could never do.

Of course the Russians. It seemed just about everything we did was contrasted to the Russians, and they always came up short. For example, we were constantly exposed to charts about how many hours it took a Russian worker to buy a toaster, or a stove, or a T.V., compared to how many hours it took an American worker.

And pity the poor damned Russki. One of our guys could take a day's wages and buy a blender and a radio and still have enough left over for a carton of Camels and a shot of Seagram's Seven at Little Joe's. The Russian, on the other hand, was lucky if he could buy a bowl of borsht and a shot of rotgut vodka.

It was of course true. At best, the Russian standard of living was sub-standard; at worst it was nonexistent, and I full well knew it: One side of my family came from what's now the Ukraine and left for a host of good reasons. Not only did I never want to visit the place - I never even wanted to fly low over it.

But still, I got sick of those comparisons. Besides, truth be told, I kind of felt sorry for the Russians. I knew they had it far worse than us, and I couldn't believe they were all evil.

Sure, Khrushchev was a scary dude, what with his "We're gonna bury you" rap and all, but I figured the average Ivan was probably a lot like the average Joe. And I thought the average Russian kid was a lot like the average American one, except he didn't have the joy of free elections for his seventh grade officers, nor did he have those things explained to him by someone like Miss Kiernan. Of course, that's because if Miss Kiernan had lived in Russia, she wouldn't have taught seventh grade, but would've been an interrogator in Lubyanka prison.

Anyway, after Miss K's stirring encomium we all marched into gym, where the Great Event took place. Like almost everything else in life that's preceded by a huge buildup, it was a miserable letdown. There were nominations, then votes, then results - zippo-bang, and that was it.

And the next thing I knew we were marching back to our classrooms.

I can't remember who won; in fact, I can't even remember who ran. I only remember that the kids I voted for were the best ones for the job. They were also the ones who lost.

At the time, I thought it was a fluke.

In the 50-plus years since then, I've come to realize that when it comes to elections, as far as I'm concerned, it's pretty much the norm.



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