"It is dangerous for a national candidate to say things that people might remember."
-- Eugene McCarthy
It figures. Moments after a campaign speech or political debate ends, huddled masses on all sides assume Perry Mason-mode, wracking memories, clicking keywords, and playing Trivial Pursuit, in hopes of unearthing some misstatement, contradiction or tidbit of compromising behavior to bring the opposition down.
Oh what tangled webs we weave, when out-of-context words we cleave -- and often practice to deceive -- all for a game we firmly believe is called "politics."
Question, for the 99.9 percent of us who have never entered the political arena: Do you ever wonder what the sleuths would dig up on you if you were running for office? I can just imagine the ghastly skeletons they'd resurrect from my closet.
Alas, I know they'd uncover the fraudulent way my husband and I secured our first home. No matter how creative the reason or clever the defense, not even that we were struggling students at the time and it was the seller's idea, not ours, and nobody got hurt or cheated in the bargain, what has remained hidden for half a lifetime would end my political ambitions for sure.
You see, the bank required a 10 percent down payment on the $8,500 house we wanted, but we only had $400 to spare. So the seller "raised" the price by $500, squirreled us the extra $500 to add to our nest egg, and we had the required down payment.
As if that wasn't bad enough, three years later we sold the house for $9,500, almost an 18 percent profit, which enabled us to leave school entirely debt-free. Now, wouldn't that look suspicious for a couple of graduating students who hadn't even entered the work force?
I'm sure they'd also learn that when I filed my first income tax return as a single-again, self-employed adult, I hadn't paid estimated tax or Social Security for the whole year before. (Honest, I thought both were options.) Would they still label me a tax-dodger after learning I paid the $99 penalty and have never missed a Social Security-estimated tax payment since?
And while we're on the subject of taxes, I might as well give up hiding the fact that the very next year my tax return was audited. The IRS questioned my charitable deductions. They didn't believe anyone who earned as little as I did would give 10 percent away.
I shudder to think what they'd uncover about my family, especially that one of my 47 second-cousins spent time in jail, and an uncle was discharged from the Marine Corps because he couldn't stay awake on the job. (Would it help that another uncle directed the Marine band and once played for President Truman?)
It's not clear how far back the dirt-diggers would go, but I probably shouldn't worry about stealing that piece of candy out of my first grade classmate's desk, or spending more than half my Sunday School offering money (three cents) at the candy store later that same year. If it did matter, they'd naturally conclude I'm a food junkie who must be terribly unhealthy, and I can't be trusted with public funds.
All they'd have to do next is note that I claim potentially inflatable gas mileage and home office space on my self-employment Schedule C, or that I've contributed to a tax-deferred IRA for years, and I'd be a political has-been for sure. No president-serenading uncle could save me there.
My heart goes out to all candidates willing to undergo the microscopic scrutiny, which seems to be as much a requirement for entering politics today as the qualifying fee. But even if I had the fee, the desire, or the qualifications for public office, I wouldn't put myself or my remaining 46 second cousins through the ordeal.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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