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woody zimmerman 118 2007I came across the following passage during a recent e-mail cleanup. It was marked as having originated with a teacher in the Nashville area. Beyond that, I cannot attribute it:

Who worries about “the cow” when it’s all about the “Ice Cream?”

The most eye-opening civics lesson I ever had was while teaching third grade this year. The  presidential election was heating up, and some of the children  showed an interest. I decided we should have an election for a class president as an object lesson. We would choose our nominees. Each would make a campaign speech, and the class would vote.

To simplify the process, candidates were nominated by other class members. We discussed what kinds of characteristics these students should have. We got many nominations, and from those Jamie and Olivia were picked to run for the top spot.

The class had done a great job in their selections. Both candidates were good kids. I thought Jamie might have an advantage because he had lots of parental support. I had never seen Olivia's mother.

The day arrived when they were to make their speeches. Jamie went first. He had specific ideas about how to make our class a better place.  He ended by promising to do his very best. Everyone applauded.  He sat down, and Olivia came to the podium.

Her speech was very concise. She said, “If you will vote for me, I will give you ice cream.”

Olivia sat down, and the class went wild.  “Yes!  Yes!  We want ice cream.” She surely could say more, but she didn’t have to. A discussion followed:

How did she plan to pay for the ice cream?   She wasn't sure.

Would her parents buy it or would the class pay for it?  She didn't know.

The class really didn't care. All they were thinking about was ice cream. Jamie was forgotten. Olivia won by a landslide.

Every time Barack Obama opened his mouth he offered ice cream, and fifty-two percent of the people reacted like nine year olds. They want ice cream!

The other forty-eight percent of us know we're going to have to feed the cow and clean up the mess.

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These observations – which appeared to have been written just after the 2008 election – seemed so insightful that I decided to comment on them in this article. Of course, they applied just as accurately to the 2012 election, when Mr. Obama promised his supporters that he would give them the desires of their hearts if they would re-elect him. They did, so we are now into the fifth year of the “ice cream” presidency. (I’ll take mine with peanuts and chocolate sauce, please.)

During the 2012 campaign, Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent, Governor Mitt Romney, promised fiscal responsibility, economic recovery, stability, and lower taxes. (Yawn!) But the Obama crowd didn’t care about lower taxes or responsible government or any of that boring stuff. Many of them don’t even pay federal taxes, and those who do wanted rich dudes like Mr. Romney to pay more, not less (i.e., their “fair share”). The Romney message did not resonate with them because fiscal responsibility is never sexy to folks who are into getting benefits and spending from government. Like Olivia’s classmates, they wanted “ice cream!” What do they care about where the ice cream is coming from, or who pays for it? Just start dishing it out.

Since reading that most instructive account about the class elections, I have wondered how things turned out for Olivia’s “constituents.” Did she deliver on the ice cream promise? Or did it fall flat? If the latter, how did her classmates respond? I imagined there might have been a free first-delivery to please her voters, followed by a delay while various “details” were ironed out. After that, perhaps the ice cream became pay-as-you-go, amid some grumbling from the electorate.

But I could be all wrong on this. After all, bringing in a few half-gallons of ice cream for the class every couple of weeks isn’t such a big deal for people of ordinary means. Perhaps she carried through, if it was in her nature to do so. If so, bully for her.

I say all this in a spirit of general good will and bonhomie toward kids. Having raised children, I understand the importance of not simply stomping every unrealistic idea they might dream up. Better to let them figure out what’s realistic and what isn’t – although a little wise counsel can be helpful. I loved those halcyon days of learning and growing with my kids, and now I’m enjoying a second round with my grandchildren. A granddaughter recently got married, so maybe I’ll have a crack at a third round with great-grandchildren, should I live so long. But I digress…

Raising and teaching children can be interesting and exciting, as well as productive for them and the country. But voters are not children – at least, they shouldn’t be. 18 is young to be deciding on national policy, which is what we’re doing when we elect a president. Teens and 20-somethings didn’t go for Mr. Obama for his policy positions. Instead, he drew great swarms of those voters by projecting a rock-star persona. His slim, buff figure looked great in a $2000 suit. He rapped with late-night comedians, and shot hoops with the bruthas. He was hip beyond the dreams of hipness. His words flowed like pure gold. Young people dazzled by the glitz, the roaring crowds, and The One’s 1000-watt smile thought he surely must be the answer to the nation’s problems.

Even people old enough to know better believed a former community organizer with no identifiable real-world experience would bring harmony, enlightenment, justice, peace and prosperity to America and to the world. And, for good measure, he would deliver the desired flavor of “ice cream” to every interest group. It would be a true miracle: a deliverance; almost a rapture. Bless the Lord, that we should live to see this day! (And let the ice cream flow!)

Politicians have made promises to voters from democracy’s earliest days. (Only the fact that democracy was still unknown when the Dead Sea Scrolls were written keeps me from citing them as a seminal reference.) Faced with competing promises of ice cream and responsible governance, voters have always had to decide whose promises are the more credible and useful. What made the Olivia/Jamie contest interesting were these seminal facts: (1) That Jamie thought it was a serious contest for a serious office; and (2) that the voters had no experience judging which candidate’s promises were realistic, credible, or even useful. Thus, Jamie was ambushed at the “pass” by the ice cream gang, and the inexperienced voters were completely bamboozled.

In the 2008 election, Barack Obama was a mostly unknown quantity, which should have exposed him to questions about his qualifications and plans for office. But various factors – including race-sensitivity – kept both the media and Senator McCain from asking those probing questions. Mr. Obama’s “messianic” persona merely promised “change” – a phantom brand of “ice cream” that could mean anything to anyone – as he declaimed across the country about the mess his predecessor had left us. One rueful voter summed it up: “He just looked and sounded so good!”

Mr. Obama’s enigmatic message and charismatic, rock-star persona swept him triumphantly into the presidency. Anticipation was high as he took the Oath of Office. Great things were expected. Indeed, he had barely found his desk in the Oval Office before the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. It was going to be a presidency to remember.

It has certainly been that – although perhaps not in ways that Mr. Obama and his acolytes might have wished. The distinctive features of his tenure are well documented, so I won’t recount them in detail here. Suffice it to say that official data show two million fewer Americans now working than at the start of his presidency. Only 63% of adult workers are employed – a figure lower than at any time since the Great Depression. Unemployment rates for black young men run as high as 50% in some locales. The people Mr. Obama claims he wants to help – those of his own race and ethnicity – are suffering the most. Were he a Republican president, the media would be shouting from the housetops about this. Yet scarcely a discouraging word is heard.

At the heart of the economy’s persistent failure to thrive is Mr. Obama’s stubborn insistence that economics is a “zero-sum game” – i.e., that one segment of the economy can gain only when another segment (or group) loses. This position pleases both his academic and low-information base, but it really is complete nonsense. Even liberal Bill Clinton understood – as JFK famously said – that “…a rising tide lifts all boats.” Most economists agree that the American economy will not rebound until it is released from the shackles of zero-sum thinking.

Since the start of the president’s second term, his administration has also been awash in scandals related to: the terrorist killing of our ambassador to Libya; politicization of the IRS which delayed tax-exempt status for tea-party and other conservative groups; and widespread phone-call and e-mail snooping by the National Security Agency. Even Mr. Obama’s dependable allies in the media were alarmed by the NSA’s investigation of respected Fox reporter James Rosen as a possible “criminal conspirator” in the matter of informational leaks of national security info.

On top of all this, Mr. Obama’s administration is proceeding with implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – a government takeover of 1/6th of the nation’s economy that is disliked and opposed by over 60% of the adult population. Democrats bravely maintain that they will run (and win) on “Obamacare” in the 2014 midterm elections, but exemption after exemption of favored constituencies from the ACA’s more onerous requirements belies that claim. Many Democrats are fleeing from ACA as fast as they can.

With his approval ratings in the 35% range, the president – undeniably good at making speeches – is still touring the country promising “ice cream” to the masses, as though he is opposing the “infamous powers” in Washington who have made such a mess of things.

As Olivia could probably tell us, this campaign strategy usually works only once.

And the ice cream is melting…