The Mouth Race

When I was five years old my mother explained politics to me with simple words a child could understand. Sometimes I feel like people still talk to me as if I’m five—like the mall security guard explaining to me yesterday why I couldn’t sit in the coin fountain wearing my duck costume. But when my brother and I were little, Mom gave us an age-appropriate explanation for why our father suddenly had posters of himself scattered on lawns and plastered all over storefront windows.

“Daddy’s in a mouth race,” she said. “Whoever talks the best, wins the race.” As a popular local clergyman and charismatic advocate for social welfare issues, my father had been encouraged to run for a seat in a federal election. His valiant efforts against a wily incumbent came up short, but at the time of the vote I was just happy that at the finish line my daddy’s mouth hadn’t fallen off.

“Mouth race” is still not a bad way to describe politics, if you ask me. It’s not always the most eloquent candidate that wins, or even the one with the best ideas, but if you’re seeking public office you’ve got to put a lot of mileage on your mouth and talk, talk, talk. This is why a street mime could never be elected leader of a country. And that’s a good thing anyway because in no time we’d be sick of him or her constantly comparing legislative gridlock to being trapped inside an invisible box.

My own foray into the political arena was limited to high school, where I ran for the position of student council athletics representative on the platform of promising a domed stadium. I won. But the student body lost, not just because I failed to deliver on the ConDome (a name enthusiastically recommended by the Sex Ed teachers), but because I failed to deliver on anything. Dishonoring the voters’ trust got me called a ne’er-do-well, a jackanapes, a rapscallion (names enthusiastically recommended by the English department). I overpromised and underachieved.

Sadly, overpromising and underachieving are two things often associated with politicians in general. The midterm congressional elections are currently convulsing America. Time will tell if the midterm winners live up to their promises. The public often tends to be jaded in its expectations. This probably dates back to the very beginning of politics, when a serpent campaigned in Eden to vote God out of office. The snake pandered to the female voter (and I mean “the”), who then told her husband how to vote. The snake won, but totally broke its promise of “a chicken in every pot, and God-like powers in every apple.”

Even Jesus, God’s Son, became a victim of politics. I don’t suppose any of us can avoid politics. We may not all be politically-minded, but everyone’s life is considerably shaped by public policy. I’m grateful for the hard-working, well-intentioned men and women who seek office to humbly serve society, to make just laws, and to advance the common good.

And I mean just laws. Not like the one that got me forcibly removed from the mall for wearing a duck suit in the fountain. That was so upsetting. Not just for me, but for the sweet old lady who kept tossing me bits of her pretzel.

Cuyler Black