As (something) of a public service, I now offer my Children’s Guide to the 2012 Elections — or lessons young people can learn from American politics. I offer this in the spirit of bipartisanship for which I am noted and with absolute faith that — eight years of George W. Bush notwithstanding — the people are never wrong. Okay, kiddies, here are the lessons:
Never Give Up. The person who best exemplifies this is Todd Akin, the senatorial candidate in Missouri who enriched the English language with the phrase “legitimate rape.” When such a thing happens to some unfortunate women, he claimed, conception is impossible. But should the rape be illegitimate, that is a different story entirely and either a boy or a girl might be born. For some reason, Akin’s fellow Republicans demanded he quit the race, but he steadfastly refused. Like a mule, he would not budge. (Lance Armstrong also could be cited in this category, but he is not a politician . . . yet.)
Say You Have a Plan. Richard Nixon did this in 1968 when he said he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War. He did, and the war ended only seven years later — just as he presumably planned. This year, boys and girls, Mitt Romney said he has a plan to revive the economy, balance the budget and, I think, get rid of acne. His plan is a secret. You, too, can have secret plans — like how to get into college or straighten up your room. Try this out on your mom to see if she is as gullible as the American people. Let me know.
Remember, No One’s Crazy Anymore. The clear winner in this category is the Senate candidate from Connecticut, Linda McMahon. In two tries, she has spent about $100 million of her own money to reach the Senate. To spend $100 million for your own proclaimed greatness ought to be in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a mental disease. Try something similar with your mom and dad or with your teachers. Say you’re great. Repeat it over again. Also say you have a jobs plan. Let me know if it works.
It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe as Long as You Believe Something. Say small government is best. Is this true? It doesn’t matter. You believe it. Say state government is better than the federal government. Is this true? Not in New York or California or Illinois or Texas, but everyone believes it anyway. Kiddies, you have to say these things with conviction, strongly, emphatically. In your own life, pick something that’s stupid and cling to it. It will work.
Only a Hypocrite Denounces Hypocrisy. Listen up, children. Just because you once said you believed something doesn’t mean you have to still believe it. Google “Romney on abortion” or “Obama on the health-care mandate.” First, say you never said it and then, if you have to, say you changed your mind. Quote Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” No one remembers what you said, anyway. Take it from me, the Hypocrisy Imperative is stronger than the sex drive — and with conservatives, often linked.
Silence Is Golden. Once again, we have to turn to Romney. He refused to make public the bulk of his tax returns, and while he was criticized for a lack of candor, he was not criticized for what is on those returns. (More horses?) This is similar to having a secret plan but a bit different. If you want to know how, I can’t tell you. (See, it works.)
Lying Works. Notice, kids, I did not say that lying is right, just that it works. Stand before a mirror and practice. Say the lie over and over again. Have a friend call you a liar. Practice not blushing or blinking. Make up facts. Finally, turn away from the other guy dismissively. Make him look small and petty.
Never Challenge a Myth. For instance, every Republican cites Ronald Reagan as a great president. Reagan never asked anyone to sacrifice anything and had contempt for conservation. Republicans now preach sacrifice, a balanced budget and the greatness of Reagan. Remember, a nice smile is better than good math any day.
The Bogeyman Is Real. See how the candidates used China or Russia or the undeserving rich to their own benefit. You can do the same thing in your own lives. Choose a sibling for this — or maybe a teacher. Everyone fears something. Find out what it is, exaggerate and repeat. If you don’t think this works, study the war in Iraq.
Richard Cohen Is Always Kidding. Maybe.