Friday, February 15, 2008

Picking a candidate is a lot like a frog jumping contest

When I was about 9-years-old, my mom took me to a frog-hopping contest at the local mall (I know it seems weird to me too, but we where in Alabama at the the time and everything seemed weird then). At the mall, there was a huge aquarium filled with frogs. I, along with about 100 other kids, hovered around the glass, just staring. I impatiently waited until it was my turn to pick my frog, the frog I just knew would lead me to frog-hopping glory.

One kid in front of me took the small jumpy frog. The fog clearly had ADD as it jumped and swam madly around the aquarium. It was a solid pick, but I wasn't concerned, my choice was still available. As another kid in front of me was choosing his running mate, one frog gracefully leapt from his rock. The green flash jumped half way across its cage and did a swan dive into the water. The kid quickly chose the jumping phenom.

But again, I wasn't worried. My frog was still waiting. When I finally got to pick, I didn't hesitate. I picked the biggest, fattest frog in the tank. He sat on a rock in a corner. He didn't move much. "Good," I thought. "Reserve your energy." I just knew that beastly frog was pure muscle and when it came time to jump, he would probably hop right out of the room. It was a match made in Heaven. Two star-crossed frog-hopping contestants were finally merged together and I had no doubt that we would soon be in the frog-hopping hall of fame.

Then it finally came time to race. About eight kids stood back-to-back with their frog in hand. Soon, the whistle would blow and the race would be on. There large white circle drawn around us, about 10-feet away. Whoever could get their frog across that line first was the winner.

So there I stood. Frog in hand, ready. I eyeballed my competition. One frog seemed to only hop in circles. Going straight across the finish line would be a challenge for him. The kid right next to me was in a wheelchair. Certainly, he would struggle as most kids were on hands and knees yelling encouraging words like "Jump!" at their frog. I had to be a favorite to win. My frog was pretty still. He was huge and as he filled my hands I whispered to him, "Alright, time to wake up and win this."

The whistle blew and off we went. All the kids set their frogs down and the madness was on. The one frog jumped in circles, the other frog took small uninspired jumps as the kid in the wheelchair yelled at him from a distance. All the frogs where hopping, except mine.

"Go!" I yelled. I gave him a little nudge and he was finally off. And then he stopped. "Keep jumping!"

The frog took a few jumps here and there, but my dreams of frog-hopping fame were disappearing. The kid in the wheelchair urged his frog on and slowly rolled behind him. While he was focusing on his frog, he failed to see where my frog was and accidently ran over my frog's leg.

"What a dirty move," I thought. My frog had been injured. Sure he still hopped, but with a major gimp. This just couldn't happen! Inspired, I urged my frog on. But he decided to do what he did best, sit. Eventually one frog jumped across the finish line. I remember the wheelchair kid finished in second place. I picked my frog up and gave him back to his handlers, who made sure he was OK.

For some reason, I was reminded of this race earlier in the week and realized it is in many ways choosing, and sticking with, our presidential candidate. Both frog and politicians have a lot more in common than being slimy, ugly creatures that will give you warts.

For whatever reason, we gravitate to one candidate. For me in the frog-hopping contest, I wanted the biggest, strongest frog. Once we finally decide our guy, or frog, we stick with it, only seeing his good traits and often ignoring the bad ones. My frog was clearly a resting beast, not a lazy, fat frog. My loyalty had been decided and there would be no changing it.

Then once the competition begins, we are fully vested supporters. Our candidates and frogs might get off to a slow start, or may even jump in circles, but it doesn't deter us. It only makes us yell louder. "Go, frog, Go!"

It is too late to jump on another band wagon. We have invested too much. When possible dirty politics, or frog injuries, occur it energizes us again. Instead of realizing we don't have the best frog in the race, we cry fowl. "No, it's not fair! Your cheating!"

It isn't over for us until the race is over. And then we accept it, with some animosity. While another candidate is declared the winner, we reluctantly accept it, but continue to check on our frog. "Is he doing OK? Good, don't worry about it. We will get 'em next time."

Of course if you win, your hopping with joy. Showing off that trophy and telling everyone, "I told you so!"

I have yet to choose my frog for the 2008 campaign, but once I do, there will be no going back.

What about you? Have you picked your contestant? Why or why not?

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