The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Monday, October 21, 2002
A CALL FOR READER INPUT: One thing you'll never read here is a mindless exhortation to cast ballots before swine -- or to cast ballots at all, for that matter. I'm not one of those anarcho-purist types who believes it's immoral to participate in the political process, but I'm not one of those goo-goos who thinks it's oh so important to get out the vote, either. Elections are spectacles, and are best regarded as such; my favorite candidates are invariably those who want nothing more than to make the race more interesting. When Norman Mailer promised to bring jousting tournaments to New York's Central Park, when Hunter Thompson pledged to put Aspen's dishonest drug dealers in stocks, when Jello Biafra announced he would rehire San Francisco's laid-off city workers as panhandlers at 50% commission -- those were candidates worth voting for.

Of course, like anything else, such prank campaigns can be done poorly. When I lived in Seattle, one Jim "Davy Jones XLV" Guilfoil, who played a pirate at the annual Seafair,
ran for mayor on a platform that consisted mostly of stale jokes about fruitcake. Apparently, no one eats them, so gosh, maybe we could use them to fill potholes. (What's next, a platform of mother-in-law jokes?) The worst thing about the campaign wasn't its weak wit, though -- it was that it advertised itself as a get-out-the-vote drive. "The real motivation behind this campaign," a Guilfoil aide told the Seattle Weekly, was to get "a huge number of people" to "come out to the polls." And then, naturally, to vote for one of the real candidates.

Ahem. Prank campaigns do not exist to encourage people to participate in the system. They exist to make fun of the system. Think back to would-be governor Howard Stern's suggestion that New York fill its potholes with the bodies of executed prisoners. Dead bodies in potholes are funny; fruitcakes in potholes are not.

I prefer Richard A.C. Greene, who without campaigning nonetheless became Washington's Republican candidate for state land commissioner in 1968. Greene quickly high-tailed to Hawaii, leaving the campaign to his staff. Some excerpts from the platform they concocted:

* Land Use: Land should be used gently but firmly.
* Whidbey Island: Whidbey Island must be replaced.
* Indian Fishing Rights: Individual catches will be limited to four Indians. All those under five feet two inches must be thrown back.
* If Elected: I shall be the sort of Land Commissioner who will go out fearlessly and commission the land.

Greene also demanded that Idaho "annex a large part of Eastern Washington, especially Spokane." And what did he think of the Democratic incumbent, Bert Cole? "Cole is simply too good a man for the job. I'd like to see him move on to something more challenging."

The campaign had its semi-serious side, or at least a semi-serious point to make. A week before Election Day, Greene staffer Lorenzo Milam wrote and delivered a speech on the candidate's behalf. "Sometimes I think about that 15,000 vote plurality I received in the primary campaign for state land commissioner," he said. "Richard A.C. Greene became Republican nominee for the office of Washington State Land Commissioner not because of his pretty smile, nor because of his knowledge of Greek and Latin -- but because all these people thought it was their duty to vote. They didn't give a damn, really; I know, because that's why they got in the booth and fumbled around with all those unfamiliar names and finally said: 'Land Commissioner. Hm. Greene. That sounds nice.'"

Guilfoil might want to meditate on those words the next time he urges people to bum-rush the ballot-box. And on these, from the same talk: "I think the voters who have to be dragged from the offices, yanked from their TV sets to get them to vote: those are the wrong ones to be in the booth. If their motivation is so lousy, their knowledge of the candidates and issues must be equally as lousy; I'd just as soon see them stay in bed on election day."

Surely there is no shortage of Greenes, or at least of Guilfoils, in America's precincts this year. If there's a prank campaign worth noting in your neck of the woods, please let me know about it. It can be funny or it can be lame; it can have its own spot on the ballot, or it can rely on write-ins. Someone's got to keep track of this stuff, and it might as well be me.

posted by Jesse 9:53 PM
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