Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pearl 17: It is Easy to Talk About Change, But Often More Difficult to Deliver

Dear Eliana and Gehrig,

Good evening my sweethearts.  I am writing you from Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja California in Mexico.  We are here for five weeks and will be missing you the entire time.  Christmas at Camp PK was so wonderful and from our observation, your first Christmas was a complete success.
You are coming up on your one year birthdays and we celebrated a little early at PK.  Neither of you seemed to like the pumpkin cheese cake with whip cream birthday cakes we presented to you but your parents, grandparents and aunts loved it.
Your first year is almost in the history books but one of the things that are going on at this time in 2008 is another Presidential election.  So, I thought I might comment a little about it but first a story about when I ran for Vice-President.
It was the fall of 1960 and more for the popularity than anything else, I decided to run for Boy’s Vice-President on the John Marshall Junior High School student council.  Now, despite playing football, baseball and competing in track and field (1320 and shot-put), I was not part of the really popular "in crowd".  Interestingly, while the competition was hot and heavy for the President of the student council and the Girl’s Vice-President positions, I was running unopposed.  Still, you had to garner enough votes (over 50 %) to be awarded the position and I knew I was going to have to make a name for myself in some way.
The only campaigning allowed was at an assembly of the student body on the day of the election.  The candidates sat on a row of chairs on the stage and each got to make a two minute speech to the whole student body.  Two minutes!  I knew I was going to have to make an impact to stand out from the crowd. From running track the previous spring, I remembered a fascination I had with the starter’s pistol that Coach Moore used to start all the races.  It was a small, .22 caliber revolver with a solid barrel and it only fired blank rounds.  I thought it might get me the attention I needed, so I went to Coach Moore and explained my plan.  He was hesitant at first but I convinced him I would be careful and responsible with the gun. He gave me only one round of blank ammo and I was off to the assembly.  I had previously gotten with my friend, Darryl, and he agreed to play the role I had in mind.

Sitting up there on the stage I was nervous but confident I could pull this off.  Only the night before had I determined what I was going to say and, oddly enough, it came by chance from a campaign flyer for the local mayoral election being held in Pomona at that same time.  It was a perfect slogan, I thought, for my campaign so I "borrowed" it.  When it was my turn to speak, I approached the microphone and boomed my message across the auditorium.  It went something like this:
"It’s time for a change in our student government. It is time to change the representation you have been receiving and make it more consistent with student needs.  It is time to change to someone who knows the challenges you face as students at John Marshall."
Then I paused and looked out over the silent audience and asked, "Are there any questions?”  At that point, and on cue, Darryl stood up in the middle of the auditorium and shouted in a sarcastic tone as we had rehearsed, "Yeah!  I got a question".  Instantly I pulled the revolver from my pocket, pointed it at Darryl and fired.  BOOM!  The sound of the gun was deafening as it echoed through the auditorium.  All the girls screamed in fear as did some of the boys.  Darryl slumped in his seat but as the realization came that he was not really shot, a roar of laughter and cheers went up from the crowd.  As it subsided, I continued in a loud voice:
"That’s the kind of one-sided representation we have to change.  It is time for a change in leadership and I can provide that change.  When you vote for Boy’s Vice-President this afternoon, vote for change.  Vote for Jud Smith!"  
I walked back to my seat to thunderous applause and I knew I had made the impression I was looking for.  That afternoon, 75 % of those who voted, marked my name on the ballot.  I took that as a mandate, but it kind of brings me to my next pearl.
Seventeenth Pearl:  "It is easy to talk about change, but often more difficult to deliver"

Following the election, I was the talk of the school for a few days. Students would come up to me in the hallways and tell me how "cool" my speech was.  Even teachers would get me aside and comment how clever it was.  Of course, today you could never pull off such a stunt.  It would be considered very "uncool" and unthinkable in the light of school shooting disasters like Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University.  Then two days after the election, my math teacher, Mr. Brewster, who was also the student council faculty representative, asked me a question after class.  "What kind of changes are you going to recommend?”  I was stunned.  I hadn’t really thought about any changes.  In fact, I didn’t even know how student government functioned.  It was just a campaign promise. I never thought anyone really expected you to fulfill campaign promises.  And, in
fact, I didn’t institute any changes, substantive or otherwise.  Oh, I learned a little bit about student government and I became more involved in student politics and student teacher relations, but I never delivered the change about which I had spoken so eloquently and forcefully.
I see a strong parallel between my campaign in 1960 and the election campaign of today.  We have a bevy of intelligent, even bright individuals, mostly men and one woman, who are all promising change.  They are feeding on and fueling the dissatisfaction of a large segment of American’s who are merely looking for something different in the way of leadership than they have had for the
past eight years.  So "change" is the mantra of the day and every candidate is embracing it.  Each candidate tells us that they and they alone, are the agent of change.  Only they can bring about the change American’s seek. Only they have the answers.  BUT DO THEY?

In this election, as in every election I have witnessed in my time, it is best to separate the fervent rhetoric from the substance.  What does each candidate bring to the change table?  What specifically are they recommending to change and how will they deliver it....and at what cost?  What qualifies each candidate to make the claims they make and what qualifications and experience do they possess to effect change.  AND, is changing what we really need in the first place?  I hope we don’t make the same mistake the student body did in 1960 and elect someone who makes the most noise about change and has no clue on how to make good on those promises.  Change for change sake is rarely a good life or in politics.
We miss you, my darlings, and hope you get through your teething period so
your Mom can get some sleep...for a CHANGE!
I love you and God Bless,
Grandpa Jud

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