I have a confession to make. Over the last 20 years, I’ve regularly been a part of an ongoing scheme to exploit school children. If you live in a district where one of my past political clients has run for office, you’ve see the evidence. If not, I guarantee you’ve seen someone else engage in the same fraud.
So what’s the exploitive scheme? You can see Barack Obama doing his version of it here. I could show you dozens of examples of my own past clients doing it, but I won’t do that, because I don’t rat out my own clients. (When I get bought, I stay bought.) Here’s how it works.
Let’s say you’re running for a seat in your state legislature. Or mayor. Or city council. Or president. Or dog catcher. I don’t care what you’re running for, this works. Find a school with a principal or teacher who’s friendly to you. Show up there and pose for pictures of you with the students. You might do a shot such as Obama’s where you’re playing the big shot explaining the world to the kids. Or if you get younger kids, you gather several of them tightly around you and take a picture of the candidate reading to the kids. (That was one of my specialties.)
Then you plaster these warm and fuzzy pictures (or lofty and commanding pictures) of you with kids onto brochures and TV ads — and you make vague promises about how you will “work to fix schools” and that you’ll “make sure our kids get the education they deserve.” If you’re in a Republican-leaning district, you’ll make some vague promises (not too specific, of course) about more educational choice and cutting school waste. If you’re in a Democratic-leaning district, you’ll make vague promises about increasing funding, but never specific enough that anyone could accuse you of wanting to raise taxes.
The last thing you want to do, of course, is discuss exactly how you’re going to keep your promises. That’s because you can’t keep your promises. Even if you get elected to the office you’re running for — whether it’s president or dog catcher — you can do almost nothing about the issues you’re promising to solve.
So why make the promises? Because voters want to hear you say them. The last guy — it’s usually a guy — who they elected made the promises, too, but they’ll almost never notice the disconnect between the two things. It won’t occur to them that they voted for the last guy because he made the same promises, but then didn’t deliver on them and that they’re now about to do the same thing with you. Just promising that you’re going to take care of schools and showing visual evidence that you care is enough to sway enough of the voters to get you elected — especially if you do it and your opponent is dumb enough to talk about ideas instead.
If I wrote a “how to” manual about getting people elected to public office at the state and local level — which would be fun since I spent so long doing it — you would believe it was satire if I were completely truthful. But it wouldn’t be satire. Even if I made all of the “tricks of the trade” public, the tricks would still work. Why? Because swing voters are lazy and want to believe what sounds good to them.
So if you’re planning to run for office in 2012, here are your three first easy steps:
- Get yourself into a school and get plenty of cute pictures made with the kids
- Loudly promise to fix schools, but with vague promises tailored to what the voters in your area already believe the solution is.
- If you get elected, make the same promises the next time you run, ignoring the fact that you promised the same thing four years ago.
If you’ll do this skillfully — with a professional who knows how to say things in the right ways — you’re well on your way to being a winning professional politician. It’s not as hard as it looks. You just have to be willing to exploit kids. In the meantime, practice different ways of working the following into everything you say:
“Our children are the future. They’re our most precious resource. When I’m elected, we’re going to provide the resources to do whatever it takes to make sure they’re prepared with 21st century skills and knowledge. They deserve world-class schools, and when I’m elected, I will fight to make sure they have what they deserve.”
See? It’s not hard. There’s no telling how far you can go in politics by exploiting children.
Note: Later this week, we’re going to look at the different goals and incentives that parts of the government education system face — and how this produces the wrong results.