Amid the onslaught of recent political news, it’s possible that you’ve failed to keep current on the most consequential election in local third grade history.
Who, the political pundits wonder, will be the next class president?
My son, a candidate himself, recently informed me that he faced a crowded field: Seven of his 10 classmates are running against him.
“So ... you have eight candidates and two voters?” I asked.
“Technically 10 voters,” he clarified, “but only two undecideds ...”
I nodded; that math checked out. “So how do you plan to win them over? Promises of candy in the cafeteria? Soda flowing freely from the water fountains?”
“Of course not,” he said. “With promises that big I’d never get reelected!”
How quaint, I thought. A politician committed to keeping promises ...
For hours on November 6 — while much of the country remained glued to their preferred news network for the latest vote count in Pennsylvania — my son agonized over his campaign speech. In the background, TV commentators speculated on and on about margins, and turnout, and my wife and I took the bait: adding to the speculation with our own analyses.
We didn’t realize just how closely our son was listening until he shared his speech with us.
A speech which, with his permission, I have reprinted below “in full” and without correction:
“Hello,” it began. “I am running for President and if you alect me everyone in the community will be important not just the popular kids. All of us. and I will make sure no one in the class is picked on or bullyd.”
It continued: “you don’t have to support me but every vote counts. I will also make sure people will wear their masks. Thank you.”
We listened, dumbfounded. In 50 or so words (most of them spelled correctly), he’d managed a level of maturity and inclusion that has been hard to come by in recent years. I’m not pointing fingers at any one politician. The erosion of our national politics, like the erosion of anything, requires sustained friction and pressure over time.
“Well?” our son asked, awaiting feedback. “What did ya think?”
“I fear you may have a future in politics,” I sighed.
My son’s interest in public service began the previous June. One afternoon, as pandemic cases rose and summer plans shrank, he penned a letter to then-former-Vice President Joe Biden. In it, my son asked how he could help change the world. (He also offered to provide some “hot tips” on how to win the elementary school vote, but only if Joe called before his 8:30 bedtime.)
Four months later, just weeks before the election, he received his reply.
“Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me,” Joe Biden’s letter began. “I love hearing from bright young people like you with an interest in politics and a desire to solve some of the issues we face. Your clear passion motivates me to work even harder to overcome the challenges before us.”
The letter urged my son to “never surrender your energy, creativity, or fearlessness.”
It closed by thanking him for his kind words and wishing him a bright future.
Standing in the living room, my son turned toward me, a confused look on his face.
“Wait ... so he wrote back?”
“It appears so,” I said.
We were both a little baffled.
That a presidential candidate — in the homestretch of an election, no less — would take a few minutes to respond to an 8-year-old’s letter seemed — how shall I put this? — like a pretty poor use of his time.
Weren’t there undecided voters to sway?
Fundraising deadlines to meet?
My son — not yet of voting age, and with a half-filled piggy bank at best — hardly demanded such personal attention. Yet he received it: four paragraphs, a couple hundred words, and a blue inked personal signature.
Is it possible it was a form letter? Probably. Yet the letter writer (whomever they were) had taken a moment to include my son’s name no fewer than three times. It felt personal, even if it wasn’t — especially to an 8-year-old.
Read my lips: I do not use my writing platform to make political endorsements. Which is why I chose to withhold this story until all the votes had been cast. In a perfect world, rather than tell you about my beliefs, I’d dedicate more time listening to yours. And if we differed, well, perhaps we’d be one chat closer to common ground.
I don’t have the polling to prove it, but I like to think America’s best days still lie ahead of us. Especially if the local third grade election is to be believed. If my son’s “political adversaries” are half as thoughtful and generous as he is, he’s in for a tough race. And I know these kids, and they are.
Mornings, when I drop my own children off at school, every last student on the schoolyard is masked and mindful of distance. No one complains. They are happy to do it, they tell me, if it means keeping their teachers safe.
In 1984, a hope-filled President Ronald Reagan famously declared, “It’s morning again in America.” It certainly was for some. But today, thanks to the next generation, perhaps it might be morning again for us all.
Though the Constitution is clear that presidential candidates must be 35 years old, I’m not sure we can wait that long. Our future leaders are ready to assume the oath of office today.
Right after their spelling tests.