The children’s theater of politics

They always say politics is theater, and most people understand what people mean when they say it. I think good politics is children’s theater, which takes some explaining to do.

When I was a college freshman at Ferris State (it was College back then, not University) I took a children’s theater class, which turned out to be a great experience. We performed a play at each of the elementary schools in Big Rapids as part of the class.

We performed “Taradiddle Travels,” which was a series of short one-act plays wrapped into one performance. We wore black tights (the guys all winced at that), black turtlenecks, and colorful ponchos the professor’s wife made.

I helped the professor build the set, which was just a series of panels (Japanese something or another was the name of them, forgive me I can’t remember), where you would pull the top one to reveal the other side, and the other panels would flip over on their own, revealing the play’s name and country of origin, etc. When that particular one-act was over, you flipped it back over to reveal blank panels and move on to the next ones.

Because we only wore the colorful ponchos over black tights and turtlenecks, the characters of each play had to announce what or who they were – including inanimate objects. Otherwise, how would the kids know what they were seeing.

The kids were set up with the kindergartners in the front, then first-graders, second-graders, etc., until all the grades were in the gym for the performance. The thinking, of course, is that the younger kids are going to be more open to believing that the bow-legged redhead pretending to be a tiger is, in fact, a tiger.

The entire class had to perform in the various short one-acts. And while each of us hoped the kids would buy into it, we still were amazed at how much they bought into it. Just as it was designed, the youngest kids immediately were mesmerized. As their excitement grew, the older kids became excited as well. By the end of the show, all the kids were reacting to everything happening on stage.

The basic thought process is to get the easiest ones to sway to believe in you, and as the excitement swells the others will follow. In order to be a success you have to have them believe in you and take an interest in you.

Politics is a lot like that. You need to get your message accepted on some level, and so you aim for those who think exactly like you first, then build. You hope that you are able to get interest from those who think a little less like you next, and so on – all the while building support and interest.

While there are other factors – a splintered nation that is growing more and more that way, two presidencies with war, a recession, etc. – we haven’t had much real groundswell support this century for our leaders. Messages don’t get built, they seem to be ramrodded down Americans’ throats all at once. There doesn’t seem to be message building.

Neither President Bushes (41 and 43) were great consensus builders, and President Obama is even worse. Both President Reagan and President Clinton could do that. You might not completely agree with their politics (and with Clinton his sexual proclivities), but they knew how to get their messages out and shape it so a majority would buy into it at some point. Not surprisingly, their presidencies marked the two time periods in the last 54 years where America, and Americans, were the most productive and prosperous – and likely, happy.

Plenty of outside influences have shaped the country since Clinton left office, leaving us to battle through wars, recession, a new society that doesn’t seem to want to cooperate, etc. If we are all going to get along as we try to move our country to a new prosperity, we need a new uniter.

Maybe the next presidential hopefuls should turn to a children’s theater director for some inspiration. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Steve Murch can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5686. Follow Steve on Twitter at sm_alpenanews. Read his blog, Pardon, Me But … at