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Has either candidate ever used bailing wire to hold up car’s muffler?


The mud is scarce, the nitpicking redundant. This year’s presidential election has all the excitement of a power outage on a February evening in Anchorage without anyone to commiserate with. There are no allegations of sexual misconduct. No false accusations leveled that would bloody an ego or rivet the public’s attention.

I welcome a subdued campaign, free of verbal wedgies and noogies. However, the presidential candidates desire to control what is said and how it is said -- what to feed the public and what to deny it -- leading to a lot of speculation or fluff from the press. We know how meaningful country, God and family are to Bush and Gore but nothing about who these fellows really are. What is packaged and what is genuine?

I have questions -- serious and light-hearted -- for the presidential candidates:

Have you ever had to use baling wire or a coat hanger to hold up your car’s muffler? Or repaired your car’s upholstery with duct tape? Presidential candidates with a genetic pool of blue blood are notorious for claiming a commonality with John and Jane Doe. But have you ever heard of a poor or average income person claiming to know what it is like to be reared in wealth? Can you relate to someone who is a couple of paychecks away from indigence? Do you keep a stash of nickels and dimes in the car’s ashtray to pay for milk or a gallon of gas?

What do you do with those Styrofoam peanuts that fill packing boxes? Do you envision mounds of this stuff in landfills?

Speaking of eyesores -- how do you justify the millions spent on trivial stuff like campaign lawn signs, bumper stickers and buttons? Is the clutter bothersome? For me, it is numbing -- the frequency of the lawn and bumper postings a slight to the trees from which they were taken. Do you consider the money well spent because of what you will do if elected?

Just because the other guy has enough in his campaign chest to eliminate a Third World country’s debt, does that mean you have to spend as much? If you plan to spend $10 or more on every registered voter in this country to convince them of your presidential worthiness, do you mind just sending me a check?

Why do you stage your rallies? Are you afraid no one will show up?

How can you wear so many hats to accommodate a country with so many vested interests? Trying to appease millions of voters has to be quite a challenge. I have a hard enough time convincing my 11-year-old to take out the garbage.

If you knew a certain part of the country was going to suffer from a nuclear accident and you were unable to evacuate the population would you tell them?

Would you ever commit covert activities without consulting Congress? If you were willing to commit troops to a conflict situation, would you drive one of the leading tanks? Could you face the mother of every soldier killed under your command?

If members of your administration were engaged in illegal matters, would you report them? Sorry, silly question. But once the illegalities were made public would you deny them? Moreover, if the major boo-boo points to your duplicity would you take the fall or pass the buck?

I realize God has a place in your speeches, but how do you pray to him or her? Do you ask for favors or fortitude? Or do you listen in silence with an open heart and mind? Does God have a gender? If God was black or turned out to love Muslims a tiny bit more than Christians and Jews would that offend you? Would it worry you?

How about those lulls between the polling numbers, out of the public eye? Do you carp at the help, whine at your wife or take on reclusive behavior?

The repetitive pace of the campaign -- endless speeches, endless listening, endless applause, endless chicken-something -- has to be mind numbing. It has to be especially difficult maintaining an endless smile for strangers in a society that is suspicious of such a gratuitous act. I suppose it is like athletes who pat each other on the behind. There’s a camaraderie that goes with the conduct, but no one pats another’s behind or wears a prolonged smile in public unless they’re willing to endure derision or a bludgeoning.

Do you confuse your kids with staff members? Or Pittsburgh with Peoria? Do you come out of the shower shaking your wife’s hand and thanking her for attending the rally?

A candidate’s acknowledging past presidential abuse brings a yawn, offering to provide a path to prosperity evokes a sigh, but when the dialogue sounds like an Amway presentation can you blame the public for falling asleep? It’s not the petty jabs and political grandstanding that creates a lot of murmuring and rustling in our seats. It’s the many questions we have that will go unanswered and your need to control what will be said and how. Do you trust what we will ask? Perhaps that is the most revealing question.

G. Wayne Barr, an oblate of Mount Saviour Monastery, works part-time as a mentor assistant at SUNY Empire State College in Corning, N.Y. His e-mail is WaySi53@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, September 1, 2000