Politics & Media
Oct 03, 2008, 04:57AM

Voting for Prom King

Presidential races are as easy to predict as the quintessential American popularity contest.

Prom.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Photo from foundphotoslj.

Our culture is obsessed with personality. We like our institutions, our teams, our cities, and our country represented by a single, all-encompassing individual. The entire United States is represented by the President. Your tiny town is repped by a mayor. Even the New York Yankees have their representative captain, Derek Jeter.

Frankly, personality is more important to Americans than actual prowess, as long as you’ve reached a certain plateau of ability. Jeter is a very good baseball player—if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be so prominent—but he is not the best player on the Yankees. In fact, the best player is arguably the least popular, Alex Rodriguez. If you really want to say it’s because A-Rod hasn’t brought a championship, fine, but what about Mariano Rivera or other talented championship-winning Yankees? They didn’t become The Face. They didn’t get pulled for their own standing ovation in Yankee Stadium’s last game. Jeter—the lovable, attractive, single, clutch, fun, hardworking star—became The Face.

For the first 16 or 17 years of our American lives, we are hardly ever asked to make an important choice about how we feel about someone. We can’t vote, we’re most likely not managers at a business, and most decisions are made for us by parents, bosses, or teachers. You aren’t asked to choose between people and decide which one you’d prefer to succeed. The closest thing to it is student government, but in reality, people just don’t care about student government. They just hope the homecoming floats look good.

Then, for the first time, you are given a list, and you must choose one name off of that list. You must elect a Prom King and Queen. Homecomings come and go, diluted by the presence of underclassmen on the various courts, but prom is singular. There is one senior prom and there is one Prom Court and it is a serious deal.

On the surface, it’s such a fleeting, trivial thing, but it represents so much more. You are placed before a group of people, some of whom may have known you for years, and made to participate in a straight-up popularity contest, as pure as they come. How much do your classmates like you? That evil bastard on the football team never quite finishes first because he’s made too many enemies, but the lacrosse star who seems like a pretty nice guy, well, he usually runs away with it.

I wasn’t going to go to my senior prom. Not to make some statement or anything, but I’d just broken up with a girl and didn’t really feel like finding a date. Plus, I’d already been the previous two years and had an okay time at best. So I was just humming along, planning a quiet evening to just chill, when my mother of all people drops a bit of a bombshell on me. “David, sweetie, why didn’t you tell me you were nominated for Prom King? And why aren’t you going?”

Despite every instinct I have to ignore the popular sentiment and just be myself, the allure was too strong. I had to find out if I could win, and to find out I had to go. I wasn’t an athlete or anything; I did the plays, worked on the newspaper, played guitar, you know, all that other stuff. It seemed unlikely that I stood a chance against the most popular and athletic kids in class.

I finished second to the friendly lacrosse player. I was thrilled to even be on the Court. I hate how good I feel looking back on it. I hate how much time I’ve spent self-indulgently trying to figure out how the hell I got that far, analyzing which demographics of my class may have voted for me. Isn’t that sick? But I’ll never forget it.

Sometimes it’s fun to pretend that policies matter in presidential politics. To a degree, maybe they do, at least in terms of shaping a candidate’s identity. But every president winning election since 1960, the birth of the Television Era in politics, has one thing in common: they would have been chosen Prom King over their opponent. They would have passed The Prom Test. They were cooler, calmer, more charming, more attractive, or more authentic. It isn’t the Have a Beer with Him Test, like so many Democrats think, it’s The Prom Test.

Just look at the last elections: a slightly inept but confident class goofball will always beat an uptight, preachy nerd—sorry, Kerry and Gore. Bill Clinton is still the most charming president ever. If you were wondering how un-charismatic Michael Dukakis was, take a moment and realize that George Bush Sr. out-classed and out-cool-factored him. All that needs to be said about Reagan was that he was a badass. Jimmy Carter may not make sense at first, but remember that this was right after Watergate. Ford may have been on the football team, but he was on the football team that was disqualified for a massive cheating ring. Nixon was the sarcastic Class President who only needed to beat a certified hippie-nerd-weirdo and a tiresome bore. Johnson was a good ole boy, needing to beat an oddball nobody from the Arizona wilderness. And Kennedy, well, Kennedy nailed Marilyn Monroe.

So now we have the sixth-year senior versus the kid who skipped a grade. A cranky, rebellious old dude going up against a suave, sexy, young dude who acts a bit too smart but has a knack for awesome speaking engagements. I wonder who’s going to win.

  • He may be all wet about politics, or maybe not, which is depressing. But the author is spot on about Derek Jeter being "The Face" of the Yankees. A-Rod isn't the "Face" for several reasons. He's not a product of the Yanks' farm system like Jeter; he has no Series rings like Jeter; he's an extraordinary player, but complains, something Jeter NEVER does. I love Mariano, but Jeter's an everyday player, and I'll bet when he's done playing he'll remain with the Yanks in some capacity. He's their jewel, their modern-day Mick or Joltin' Joe or Gehrig.

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  • Wow, going from Jeter to Obama is very impressive. I agree that votes in politics do become based around popularity and not so much issue-based, which is a crying shame. I can guarantee that if more people focused more on the plans and issues of candidates instead of just liking someone there would be a lot more political discussions and less political arguments.

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  • No argument here, threels. There is a problem, however, when the candidates change their positions after running one way in the primary and then tacking to center for the general election. Obama has moderated his tax plans since February; McCain has changed, well, it depends on the day. Unless you go way back in history, when has the presidential election NOT been a popularity contest? Ike vs. Adlai in '52 and '56? Don't think so. JFK vs. Nixon in '60? No contest.

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  • I agree. And people should be conscious of candidates changing their plans. One of the hardest things to swallow in a presidential election is in the primaries when candidates are debating each other and then run together and have to go back on some of the things they said before. I do feel like people could at least make an effort and look at what candidates have to offer as far as plans. For example, on Obama's site, you can not only read an overview of his health care plan, but you can also download a 13 page document of the entire plan plus a 5 page Q&A sheet. If you go to McCain's, you can only get a slight overview and a one sheet download of the same thing. Even if I was basing my vote solely on how much I liked a person, I would at least have to admit one is seeming more honest and prepared than the other. However, not enough people feel the need to visit these resources.

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  • Well, there's no doubt that Obama's website not only makes McCain's look pathetic, but seriously calls into question if McCain has anyone under 40 working for him. But here's the difficulty: even if voters are diligent enough to read the proposals on websites, in the end, they're just promises and outlines, and don't necessarily have a lot to do with what a potential president will actually act upon. In some ways, a website is like the platforms that are adopted at each party's national convention: they're largely boilerplate and forgotten once a candidate is elected.

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  • True, but in the end, the entire campaign is just promises and outlines. If you give relatively detailed descriptions of your plans, there's at least some accountability. McCain keeps running on personality instead of solutions, which can be smart in that he avoids making too many promises, but at least Obama is giving us more detail, illusory as it may end up being.

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  • Exactly. I would never say that a possible candidate would do exactly what they say they will, I am merely speaking to the article in that the way a candidate presents himself/herself is everything and presenting yourself along with details goes a long way for your looks.

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  • But what good are illusions? Bill Clinton disappointed so many of his disciples, or FOB's as they were called, like Robert Reich, by going back on his platform and promises almost immediately after taking office.

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  • I'm saying that the illusions are the negative exception; they're not good. That was shitty of Bill Clinton to do, but does that mean that Barack Obama will renege on his promises as well? I hope not, and I'd rather take the chance on the candidate who at least promises the things I'd like.

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  • A completely honest answer, "philmedley." And as such, I'd rather take the chance on McCain's promises, even though I have no confidence, on the off chance he's elected, he'll follow through on them. Palin makes me nervous, but Obama on international affairs is even scarier.

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  • Sarah Palin is just the epitome of the prom queen mentality that the average American has in regard to politics. Her whole schtick is centered around the idea that she is like YOU, and looks like YOU, and all the rest. Who cares about her policies? She's like YOU. Don't you want YOU leading our country? Well, I can tell you right now, I would never want HER anywhere near the Oval Office.

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