Many esteemed and influential people have been privately debating the question: “Is it Possible to Win the U.S. Presidency by Fraud and Deception?” We already know the answer, don’t we?
#ad#I think back to another time in my life, a school election in which advertisement and audacity were crucial. I’ve written about this election, and my close friend Richard, in my first book, Danger Close:
At the beginning of our sophomore year, before we formally met, there were student body elections. (Our high school was tenth through twelfth.)
Richard had a friend named Bill Gurley who had political aspirations. Most sophomores were nervous because it was our first year at the big high school that had close to two thousand students, and Bill wanted to run for sophomore representative, but being just a tenth grader, he was timid. Good leaders are not usually meek, but Richard decided to help Bill anyway.
Together they plastered campaign signs all around the school:
As a prerequisite to run, in addition to rallying voter support, Bill needed fifty signatures from students and three from teachers saying that he was a good man for the job. Candidates also needed a certain grade average from their previous schools, so the front office had to sign-off, showing that they had checked the records. In this way, the school ensured that it maintained a puppet government “representing student interests.”
As the elections drew closer, Bill-the-timid was out sick, so Richard-the-lion-hearted went around and collected the signatures from the students and teachers, then got permission from the principal’s office.
Most people couldn’t remember Bill Gurley, so Richard reminded them what he looked like and who he was. Richard said things like, “You remember Bill. He’s the guy with curly hair, about 5’10”, always nice and funny. Real smart. He knows you and hopes you will vote for him. He said you were in civics classes together in eighth grade and that he really likes you.”
The teachers, students, and front office all endorsed Bill. They wanted him to win because they all knew that he was such a good guy, and that Bill knew them even though they only vaguely remembered him. He put a lot of work into those election signs, so obviously he was a serious character, and his name was well known. Everyone liked him.
When it came time for the speeches, Bill was still out sick, but Richard was gracious enough to get in front of the entire sophomore class assembled in the gymnasium and deliver a moving speech. Richard easily evoked sympathy for Bill-the-bedridden, and during his illness Bill Gurley was elected by a landslide.
Every morning before classes we put our right hands over our hearts and began the day with the Pledge of Allegiance…WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. Then we listened to the morning announcements and crackle over the intercom. There was the football news, Chess Club news,…the threat that smoking was (still) not permitted in the restrooms and that smokers would be caught and punished by death or worse, and then there was the list of which buses were late. Finally, each day at the end of the announcements, there was a little request, “And will Bill Gurley please report to the main office.”
Monday: “And will Bill Gurley please report…”
Tuesday: “And will Bill Gurley please report…”
Wednesday: “And will Bill Gurley please report…”
Thursday: “And will Bill Gurley please report…”
Friday: “And will Bill Gurley …”
People started asking questions: Where is the Sophomore Representative? Why doesn’t he report to the office so they will stop asking? Why don’t they just go to his homeroom class and get him? Is he that afraid? Who voted for him?
The Student Council was having meetings, but Bill never attended. He was totally remiss in his duties. The principal was miffed.
This went on for weeks. People asked Richard about Bill, and Richard simply said, “Ask Bill,”
He was elusive. An enigma. The school was buzzing. Most people remembered Bill and most sophomores had voted for him, but nobody could find him. Bill Gurley would not show his face and he had a very good reason. He did not exist.
A non-existent person was swept into office as our student body representative, which was simultaneously very funny, and more than slightly alarming. Richard planned and pulled off the shenanigan all by himself. His idea was brilliant; his execution was beautiful. There was no reason why his plan would work, and every reason why it would flop, but sometimes pure genius is nothing more than a good idea rumbling forward under the steam of utter audacity. Richard was fifteen years old.
He’d thought up the idea during PE, he told me later. Richard was by no means athletic, but he played a mean game of ping-pong, and a tougher game of chess. He resented having to dress for the PE class, so he’d sought revenge while sitting on the wooden bleachers in the gym.
Finally, to add insult to injury, Richard had “Bill Gurley” T-shirts made, and Bill Gurley became something of a cult figure, retaining his “popularity” for almost three years, until we graduated. You could find his name scribbled on desks or on bathroom walls, “Bill Gurley was here.” Richard even had one of his friends insert a “Gurley, William A.” student file at the front office. Bill Gurley was the name of a real person that he had never met, but Richard thought the name sounded good for a funny prank.
Someone checked out a library book under the Gurley name and apparently didn’t give it back, so the principal called Richard down to the office and accused him.
Richard denied it. The principal accused him again and again, but Richard held his ground. Finally, the principal was livid and screaming at Richard, and commanded him to sign his name on a piece of paper. The principal said that he was going to take the signature down to the police station and have them analyze the handwriting to prove that Richard did it. The principal gave him “one last chance to fess-up,” but Richard admitted nothing. Richard, who is now a college professor in Kansas, still denies it. Which was not easy because nobody could find him, and apparently nobody could find him, and apparently nobody even had his home telephone number.
After all these years, Richard and I remain very close friends, and we still laugh about Bill Gurley and a long list of other escapades that we pulled off, often through sheer audacity.
Robert Fulghum once wrote: “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” In that light, William A. Gurley taught me in high school everything I need to know about a presidential election. The lessons of advertisement and repetition were the most obvious. But the most crucial lesson was in the virtue of audacity.