If you haven’t been reading the newspaper or watching the news, you might not realize we’re electing a president this month. It seems like just yesterday that Chief Justice John Roberts, the man in charge of interpreting the Constitution, was bungling the oath of office contained in that document at the last inauguration.
Presidential candidates and their political parties spend a lot of time and money trying to convince us it’s 1933, their opponent is Adolf Hitler, and they, in turn, are Winston Churchill and FDR rolled into one, making the world safe for democracy. I’m a political independent, loathing both parties equally, so I have to figure out whom to vote for rather than being told. I used to agonize about whom to choose, diligently researching each candidate before casting my carefully considered vote. This turned out to be too much work, so I began looking for an easier way to pick a candidate and decided to vote for the person I would want to have as my neighbor.
I’m not one of those people on the news who, when their neighbor goes on a killing spree, says, “He pretty much kept to himself. I really didn’t know him.” I know everything there is to know about my neighbors: where they work, what they’re worth, what they think about God, how they vote, the state of their marriage, their criminal history, and other sundry facts requiring incredible gall to ferret out.
I first employed the neighbor standard when Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter vied for the White House. I didn’t know much about Reagan, but I had read that whenever Jimmy Carter went home to Georgia, he’d have a cookout, where his brother Billy would get drunk and his sister Ruth would try to save everyone. Drunks annoy me, as do people who try to save me, so I voted for Ronald Reagan. When he ran for a second term, I appreciated his sunny optimism after being shot by a wacko who wanted to impress Jodie Foster. Whatever happened to sending a girl flowers? Besides, Walter Mondale reminded me of an Amway salesman, so I voted for Reagan again.
Then George Bush the First ran against Michael Dukakis. Every time I opened the paper, there was a picture of George Bush in his speedboat. As a general rule, I’ve never been impressed by speedboat owners. If people drove cars the way the average speedboat owner drives a boat, we’d all be dead. I was all set to vote for Michael Dukakis until he had his picture taken wearing an Army helmet, sitting in the turret of a tank. Who wants a dweeb for a neighbor? Not me. So I voted for George Bush, who spent the next four years zipping around in his boat, waving to tourists and looking exuberant.
The next election, I’m sure you’ll remember, pitted President Bush the First against Bill Clinton. I voted for Clinton because I had a fleeting infatuation with his wife and thought it would be fun to have her for a neighbor. I later saw a photo of her in a bathing suit and wished I had voted for Bush. President Bush and Bill Clinton said snarky things about one another during the campaign but became good friends when they were out of office. Even though he barfed on the Japanese prime minister, George Bush the First turned out to be such a classy guy it made me think I might have been wrong about speedboat owners.
That same year, Ross Perot took a stab at the presidency, but he withdrew from the race, claiming Republican operatives threatened to disrupt his daughter’s wedding. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you find out beforehand that Republican operatives might disrupt your daughter’s wedding, and you’re a zillionaire like Ross Perot, wouldn’t you just hire security? Or tell the police? Or bring in the Chicago Democrats to crack some heads?
Four years later, Senator Bob Dole ran against Clinton. I admired Senator Dole for his service in World War II, but he always looked mad. I already had one grouchy neighbor and didn’t want another, so I voted for President Clinton. A lot of people didn’t like Bill Clinton, something I never understood. Under his leadership, the economy soared, unemployment was low, and the budget was balanced for the first time since presidents wore powdered wigs. He had a fantastic daughter, a bright and gifted wife, and was unquestionably intelligent, perhaps one of our smartest presidents ever. Except when it came to his sex life; then he was a moron. If I had known my 5-year-old was going to watch the news and then ask me what oral sex was, I would have voted for Bob Dole.
The next election was an easy one for me, not requiring my neighbor test. I’m opposed to political dynasties, so I didn’t vote for George Bush the Second. Ralph Nader was self-righteous. Al Gore was so dull I wanted to beat my head against a rock whenever he gave a speech. Or beat his head against a rock, just so one of us was unconscious. Nevertheless, I voted for Al Gore, as did a plurality of Americans, though it turned out our votes didn’t count, since the Supreme Court stopped the election and crowned George II the King of America, where he reigned forever and ever, amen. Actually, it was only eight years. It just felt like forever and ever.
Halfway through King George’s reign, John Kerry, an honest-to-goodness war hero, ran against him. Inexplicably, more Americans preferred as their commander-in-chief a man who’d spent the Vietnam era waging war against his liver. Though I voted for Kerry, I didn’t find him all that compelling. It was rumored that when a Boston hospital ran out of anesthesia, it had sedated its patients with Kerry speeches.
Four years later, in the thick of two wars, a collapsed stock market, a mortgage crisis, and record unemployment, Barack Obama and Joe Biden ran against John McCain and Sarah Palin. I was terrified Senator McCain would keel over, vaulting Sarah Palin into the White House, who in response to our grave problems would shoot a moose. So I voted for Obama, who is now running, in case you haven’t heard, against Mitt Romney. Having saved the 2002 Winter Olympics from financial ruin, Mitt Romney is convinced he can rescue the country, the Olympics and the presidency having so much in common. Of course, saving the Winter Olympics from financial ruin is much easier once you’ve talked Congress into donating $410 million to the cause. But I’m voting for Obama due to Romney’s work in the Mormon church, where he served as a bishop, the Mormon equivalent of a pastor. I have nothing against Mormons, but I am leery of pastors, having been one for 28 years. There’s no way I’d want someone like me to be the president, let alone my neighbor.
Illustration by Ryan Snook
This column appeared in the November 2012 issue.