Election Day, always a big event in D.C., was a whole lot bigger than normal here this year, if only in the McKenna household. Neither control of the U.S. Senate nor the fate of Obamacare factored into its bigness. Nah. This was all about Eddie running for office.
Eddie's my 8-year-old. He told me and my wife last week that a class representative slot was up for grabs among third graders at Stoddert Elementary, and he was going for it. I think we both were as thrilled and supportive as any Parenting 101 manual would say we're supposed to be, at least until he told us that this was not the first time he'd entered an election. Turns out he also ran last year, for second-grade rep, but never let me know.
"I was humiliated," he told me now. "I got one vote, and that was my own."
But he seemed far less scarred by taking that beating than anybody with my DNA should be. And here he was, jumping right back on the horse, rejection be damned. I was so proud. Envious, even. I never had the guts to put myself out there like that. Heck, I wanted to be like Eddie when I grow up.
But, as Election Day grew closer, and I remembered that I'm the parent, I began obsessing about last year's "humiliation." I figured I should do something to help him avoid another one-vote/own-vote whupping.
Halloween leftovers came to mind. He should try to earn votes the old-fashioned way.
"You should give out candy," I said to him the morning of the big day.
"Bribing's against the rules," he said.
Sure enough, right there on the flier he brought home listing the do's and don'ts of third-grade campaigning: "Candidates may NOT pass out candy, treats, buttons or gifts to persuade or bribe students to vote for them. Bribing will result in disqualification."
Hmmm. So candy's out. But … Eddie's just discovered the joy of a good backrub, and so the family's been on a bit of a you-scratch-mine-I'll-scratch-yours jag these days.
"Tell everybody you'll give them backrubs," I said.
Nah. "That's bribery," he said. He'd already typed up a speech, he added, and he was going to stick to it.
But while he rejected my content suggestions for his address, Eddie did say he hoped I'd come see him deliver it. So I had to go. I showed up to Eddie's class a few minutes before the speeches would be given. The teacher was reading the kids a book when I arrived. No other parent showed up. Not because I care more about my kid than they care about theirs: Turns out parents weren't invited. But Eddie's teacher nicely told me I could stay if I wanted.
I sat in a corner in a little chair while she read. And while watching the clock tick, I devoted half an ear to her storytime tale. I could tell it took place on some Election Day somewhere, something about a boy running for some school office. This boy was sure he was going to win, but mainly because his opponent wasn't a boy and he figured all the boys would vote for him just because boys vote for boys. Again, I wasn't real focused on the story as it was being read, but I'm pretty sure at the end the cocky dude and all the kids in Eddie's class had been taught a lesson that boys shouldn't vote for boys just because they're boys.
In any case, I perked up again when the teacher announced it was speech time, and I noticed that there were five candidates, with Eddie the only boy. The story choice, its noble lesson notwithstanding, suddenly seemed sinister.
The talkers stepped up in alphabetical order, putting Eddie as the third speaker. When the floor was his, Eddie kept his head down and read from the page he'd typed:
"Hello, my name is Eddie McKenna. I have gone to Stoddert since Pre K, and I am running for classroom representative for [my] third-grade class. I think I should be class representative because I will take the position seriously, if I am elected. I understand that if my behavior is bad I will be removed from the position. I know this information because I read the paper about Student Council. I will pay attention and I will do my best to represent my classroom. These are the reasons you should vote for me. I like Stoddert because it's a very nice school with very nice teachers. And I like my classmates. I would appreciate it if you would vote for me. Thank you."
Now, I've read the Gettysburg Address countless times on trips down to the Lincoln Memorial with visiting relatives. Nice piece. And I watched the Democratic Conventions in 1984 and 1988, when Jesse Jackson took to the podium and got all of America goosebump-y while exposing his party's nominees as the pale and boring losers they surely were. Good stuff.
But no speech ever meant as much to me as the one I'd just witnessed, with my Eddie taking about 30 seconds to tell his classmates, basically, "I have a dream … that one day maybe I'll do what I'm told … but only if I get my way today!" I heard a kid who envisioned a new morning with a kinder, gentler classroom—once the vote comes in. And though I'm no longer the political obsessive every inside-the-Beltway denizen of my generation was raised to be, I still recognized Eddie's I'll-get-my-own-house-in-order-first message as being ripped straight out of Frank Luntz's playbook. The kid's a natural.
I was so proud. I was even prouder when I got a call from Eddie at the end of the school day, using his mom's phone on the drive home to tell me he'd won. Promises of backrubs and sweets, it turns out, were as unnecessary as they were illegal. Maybe little boys really do vote for little boys. But there was no time for post-game punditry. We had a celebratory dinner to go to at Popeyes and dessert at Frozen Yo, winner's choice.
The victory vibe, alas, didn't last long. On Wednesday afternoon, we got an email from his teacher. It said Eddie's behavior had been less than perfect for a while. But in the days up to Election Day, Eddie had seemed to turn over a new leaf. Then, post-win, a relapse.
"When I give a direction," she wrote, "Eddie either disregards me completely, makes a comment, or argues with me."
He didn't even make it a day before breaking his campaign promise! "I will pay attention" was the new "No new taxes!"
Forget those DNA quandaries I had when he announced his candidacy. That's my boy for sure.
When he got home that night, I asked what happened, and he didn't dispute the teacher's account. I reminded him of his speech, and how he'd made all sorts of promises of good-boy-ness if elected.
"I meant it when I said it," he said.
How Washington is that?
Photo by Jim Bounds/AP.