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Lighten up, student government

Andrew Nesi | Thursday, February 7, 2008

I don’t think I’ve met Bob Reish, Grant Schmidt or George Chamberlain. And the only time I ever met Maris Braun was drunkenly spending my Domer Dollars on a brat at the Stadium, appropriately. She seemed very friendly.

I have nothing against any of them in particular – and, to be honest, I don’t think that a vote for one over another will make a substantive difference on my senior year.

But each year, we hit this point of the student government elections and the cult of student government opens its doors to the rest of us and imagines we care to enter. I don’t want to repeat the tired argument that student government doesn’t matter. That argument has become so tired that campaigns have started to acknowledge it with a superficial distance, as if they aren’t part of the sometimes laughably self-contained irrelevance that student groups – the student government, The Observer, the Society of Women Engineers – all suffer.

My critique of student government isn’t that simple. It’s not that I think that student government can’t make a difference-it can, for sure. It’s the painful seriousness with which most candidates seem to take themselves.

It’s an easy mistake to make, and one of which I am guilty too. I’m so self-important that I feel compelled to publish my thoughts every other week. There are times when I approach this column the same way our candidates approach this election, as if my choice of words about Hillary Clinton, Larry Craig, or Father Jenkins (now there’s a threesome) consistently matter to people besides my mom and whichever person on campus has a vested interest in the column. I try to rectify that with an ironic self-awareness (and, apparently, a self-awareness about that self-awareness).

(And now I’m so caught up in myself that I spent an entire paragraph – heck, an entire column – suggesting that I have the solution).

There are two serious pairs of candidates this year – I’ll give Giants-over-the-Pats odds (note: this paragraph was written before Sunday evening) to anybody who bets on anybody besides Maris and George or Bob and Grant. But both campaigns – especially Bob and Grant’s – border on self-parody.

Maris Braun and George Chamberlain can take us “from tradition to innovation-exceeding expectations.” Please.

And their Web site: “We come to you today with a simple goal of exceeding the expectations, needs, and desires of this student body because, quite frankly, most of the issues that affect a freshman in Carol, a senior in Zahm, a sophomore in PW, or a 5th year architect student off-campus affect us, too.”

Maris and George, representative of the Notre Dame student body, know that they can best represent “Carol” (yes, Carol) Hall. They can also represent Dylan. And Louis.

But Bob and Grant are the worst offenders. From everything I’ve heard, Bob Reish is a really nice kid. He’s a really nice kid who really wants to be student body president. He’s a really nice kid who really wants to be student body president and apparently doesn’t understand that his campaign makes it shamelessly look like he really wants to be student body president. He and his running mate, Grant Schmidt, created bobandgrant.com (also registered under reishandschmidt.com). One of my friends who drinks gallons of the student government Kool-Aid thought it was a great idea – a catchy Web site that everybody remembers “better than squiggly mbraun3 or whatever.”

Bobandgrant.com makes me want to vomit, and I haven’t even had any Kool-Aid. Just by investing in “bobandgrant.com,” they’ve gone above and beyond what anybody reasonably thinks you should for a student government election.

Rudy Giuliani didn’t even invest in RudyGiuliani.com when he was running for a somewhat more important presidential position.

But Bob and Grant didn’t stop there. Look at bobandgrant.com. First, you go through the entry screen, which (if you haven’t been lucky enough to see it) somewhat resembles the sort of “Click Here to Enter” image that you might see on the Web site of the Bellagio. But it gets worse.

After you Click There to Enter, you’re greeted with a large picture of Bob and Grant together, in shirts and ties, with their arms folded like Stephen Colbert might mockingly do in the intro to the Colbert Report. And the background for the picture? Amber and gold leaves. This picture was probably taken before fall break.

That’s right, their self-named Web site reveals that they were planning their student government campaign in September or so. Ugh.

The campaign’s slogan is “bridging the gap.” Catchy, yes. Nonsensical, too. Bridging the gap between what? This years’ student government leadership and next years’? More campaigns like this a year from now?

GrantandInsertSophomoreHere.com?

That appearance of self-importance is what makes things like last year’s difference-making votes for “Abstain” funny-it allows outsiders to make fun of the insiders, to beat them at their own game and undermine it.

But Bob, Grant, Maris and George, don’t overreact to this. To do so would be symptomatic of what I just described. After all, this is just a column in The Observer. Nobody really cares.

Andrew Nesi is a junior American Studies major from Fairfield, Conn. In his younger and more foolish years, he convinced one of his friends to drink a single-serving container of maple syrup for a dollar. He can be reached at anesi@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.