The air was thick with political fervor in the Island Grove Park Regional Event Center before the president’s speech Saturday.
Nine o’clock on an overcast morning thousands of men, women and children piled into a barn-like warehouse to see President Bush speak.
Most notable for me on this groggy morning were the kids, breathing in the theatrical politics.
Little boys and girls, some dressed to the nines in suits and dresses, waved flags and signs to the pulses of the loud country music that filled the auditorium.
I thought about what I would have been doing when I was elementary age on a Saturday morning: Watching cartoons, playing with Transformers, playing soccer, eating sugary cereal and doughnuts.
I then took a moment to absorb my surroundings.
Strung between two gleaming John Deere tractors was a large banner with “Re-elect Marilyn Musgrave” in red letters. The auditorium had been papered with hundreds of Musgrave signs and the red, white and blue.
Metal bleachers had been erected on three sides of the stage in a C-shape, providing the candidates with a living backdrop of supporters.
An elementary school-aged girl climbed on the metal barricade in front of me to stand above the crowd.
One hand on her dad’s shoulder with her tennis shoes squeezed between the bars of the barricade, this young girl clapped her hands fervently above her head for every ovation that accompanied a clever talking point.
Colorado State Treasurer Mark Hillman took the stage to build the energy of the crowd. To do so Hillman elected to tell a joke, which went something like this:
So John Kerry is talking to a class of kids about tragedy. Senator Kerry asks, “Who can tell me what tragedy is?” Little Bobby raises his hand and says, “Tragedy is when a car crashes and kills the family of four riding in the car.”
John Kerry replies “No, Bobby. That would be an accident, but not a tragedy. Anyone else? What is tragedy?”
Little Jill raises her hand and says, “Tragedy is when an earthquake kills 10,000 people.” John Kerry replies, “No, Jill. That would be sad and a great loss, but it wouldn’t be a tragedy. Anyone else?”
Little Frankie raises his hand and says, “Tragedy is when John Kerry’s jet is hit by a missile, instantly killing the senator.”
Kerry replies, “Yes! Why is that Frankie?”
Little Frankie replied, “Well it isn’t a great loss, and it may not be an accident.”
One of the morning’s loudest ovations followed the punch line of Hillman’s joke. The little girl on the barricade in front of me mirrored her father, clapping and shouting.
I looked around. All the other kids I saw did the same thing: applauded the violent joke.
As a young adult with thick skin when it comes to politics, the John Kerry joke still made me feel uneasy. But the crowd’s reaction made me feel even worse.
I can’t imagine applauding the death of a senator at a political rally, even in joking terms. It was sad to see how happy some people were at the idea of an American senator’s death because he is in the opposing party.
But what was worse is that the kids followed their parents’ lead, almost bloodthirsty in their applause.
Part of the fun of being a kid is being na’ve. Saturday morning, in a theatrical political display, I saw why American bipartisanship is growing. The energy of the morning went to waste with a distasteful joke. Why?
It may help win elections to take advantage of political divisiveness, but in the long run I feel that our politics would be rewarded if we were to embrace the idea of respectful cooperation and educated discourse, rather than violent political jokes for our kids.
Maybe from now on, political rallies should come with advisory warnings: “Caution: This rally contains explicit political content, ethical discretion is advised.”
Drew Haugen is a senior international studies major. His column appears every Monday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.