Issue: 1.13 12/1/2000
by: Joe Klock Sr.
The Hoe-House or the Mad-House

As this is written, a handful of votes in Florida may determine who will move into the White House come January. Behind us are bizarre victories by:
- A candidate who moved to one state solely to become its Senator.
- A gazillionaire in another who took $65 million from his own piggy bank to buy his Upper Chamber seat (at $50-plus per vote!).
- A third who won the election as a permanent and bona fide (albeit deceased) resident of the state he sought to represent.

While pondering these political shenanigans, among others to be discussed in later columns, my mind went back three decades or so to a memorable luncheon in Minneapolis, where I was freeloading a midday munch at the head table. The speaker, a columnist for the Minneapolis Tribune, told of a quaint custom he had witnessed during the then-recent elections in Tanzania, a Third World (approaching Fourth) nation in East Africa. Their electoral problems included a lack of technology, the absence of mass media and the daunting fact that many of the more than nine million eligible voters were illiterate. This made printed ballots dysfunctional, and lengthy pieces of campaign literature would have had little or no impact on the potential voters.

Then and there (even as here and now), they had to deal with the unfairness inherent in well-entrenched incumbents running against little-known challengers and rich folks running against poor folks. Still, there was the need to inform the masses about contending candidates and their proposals. What to do? Well, these backward bumpkins came up with a system that, in today's terms, is both pathetically simple and awesomely powerful - one that deserves a careful look.

Candidates for public office were encouraged to campaign, but under a number of unusual restrictions.
-No candidate was permitted to address a gathering of any size unless his opponent was also on the platform and permitted to address the audience. Therefore, the candidates had to agree on times and places for campaign speeches or neither of them could speak at all. The result was an equal exposure of both candidates, not only to their own supporters, but to those of their opponent as well.
-They had to co-create all printed material, in which the space was equally divided between them. It was mandated that each such piece contain the names and pictures of both candidates, together with a distinctive symbol, which also appeared on the election ballot. In the example displayed by the speaker, the picture of one Japhet Nguraio was accompanied by the representation of a hoe and that of his opponent, Ole Mejooli, was shown with the sketch of a house.

Their need to agree on the format and content of every piece of campaign literature nullified the advantage either might otherwise enjoy of celebrity or financial muscle by assuring both candidates of equal exposure whenever and wherever the literature was circulated.

Understand, these limitations were made necessary by the ignorance and poverty in Tanzania. In more sophisticated nations, such as ours, they would not be tolerated. But suppose our candidates WERE prohibited from appearing in public (or on TV), except at the same times and places as their opponents? And what if they had to agree to divide equally with their opponents the space available on all printed material?

Wouldn't that create a level playing field for both the "in" folks and the "wannabes?"

And wouldn't it do the same for both the financial fat cats and those with limited budgets?

And wouldn't it enable (compel, actually) the electorate to hear both sides of the issues?

And save a pot-full of money? And reduce the output of sleaze, innuendo, half-truth and smear? And clarify the questions? And simplify the voters' decisions?

As a matter of fact, is there anything WRONG with the idea that worked so well in that East African subculture? As one thinks back on the last election and looks ahead to the political circuses of future years, one can't help but wonder if we are not the victims as well as the beneficiaries of our free speech and deep pockets. If we adopted a "hoe or house" approach, we'd put a lot of spin doctors out of business, but we'd also refocus our electoral process on the issues, rather than such extraneous subjects as the youthful peccadilloes, military records, drinking habits, telegenic qualities and sexual proclivities of those seeking to govern us. By the way, if you think the Tanzanian election process was weird, imagine yourself trying to explain our methodology to a Tanzanian!

The more I pondered it, the more value I saw in the hoe/house" system there and the less sense I could make of the "mad/house" that constitutes our American Way.

Joe Klock, Sr. (The Goy Wonder) is a freelance writer and career curmudgeon. To read past columns (free), visit
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