Confessions of a Candidate

by James S. C. Baehr | 5/10/04 5:00am

I am a free man. Free from the inexplicable brutality that marks a student body election. Free from sidewalk chalk and stupid posters. Free from the assumptions people make without daring to look deeper. I am very free now, and content because of it.

I've never experienced anything like these past few weeks. I learned more about the human condition in this brief struggle than could be imagined. I learned that good friends can betray me, can badmouth me behind my back and that near total strangers can step in and stand up for me. The latter surprised me more than the former. I learned all the nasty things people thought about me in vivid detail -- my supporters would forward them to me, my campaign chairs would recount and discuss them in excruciating specificity, my opponents would spread them in hushed tones to possible voters.

A lot of people asked me through this contest why I did it. I could say I just did it for Dartmouth, because I love this school as it is and wanted to see Student Assembly stand up to an administration that wants it to become something different. That wouldn't be entirely true though; we are all motivated by multiple rationales. I did it for my mom, who believes in me and who has a rare eye disease that is slowly blinding her -- I wanted to accomplish something she could see and take heart in. I did it for my dad, who believes in Dartmouth and who has always fought for his convictions -- even if it meant struggling financially running a non-profit. I remember being young and hearing him worry about the finances every day, and knowing that I never wanted to live like that. I did it for myself, because I'm not selfless and the presidency of this school seemed a great honor to be achieved. Most of all, I did it for my God, a carpenter from Nazareth executed many years ago for my sake, for whom I strive to live and without whom I see no reason to draw breath.

I'm not who some of you think I am. I'm not some rich, preppy white guy who was just trying to use this election as a stepping-stone to self-aggrandizement. I'm a regular human being, painfully aware of my own shortcomings. I'm not rich. I'm only recently preppy. When I went to boarding school I exchanged my Southern California Airwalks for my New England boat shoes because I wouldn't fit in any other way. I still never really felt like I fit in, just like I'm not sure I'll ever completely fit in here.

My opponents -- who saw this piece before it went to press -- aren't who some of you think they are either. It would amaze me when we would come together to debate after intense strategy sessions with advisers and I would see them not as the evildoers we had been imagining, but as deeply human people. I would see Ralph tremble or stutter at the podium. I would know that Julia cried at night because she was afraid. And I would be intensely aware of my own inadequacies and fears of failure and wonder, "Why are we doing this to each other?" Mike Valmonte asked just that at the candidate debate we held: "Why do you guys have to be like this to each other?" And I couldn't answer because of the power of the truth of what he said, because I didn't always know the answer to that question.

I lost this race soundly, and there is always disappointment in defeat. It doesn't matter to me so much that I spent lots of time and energy in this effort and ultimately failed. It matter more to me to that my friends and supporters gave so much of themselves for this unsuccessful cause. I will never forget the lengths they went for me, I owe them more than I can repay. I owe Noah Riner for sacrificing a term of his life trying to get an unelectable character like me elected. I owe Jonathan Lazarow for his work and commitment and Blake Johnson for going out on a limb for me repeatedly. I owe many other folks, and I am grateful to each of them. I am even indebted to those who betrayed me, for teaching me what it means to be human. More than anything, I am thankful for Dartmouth College, which put up with the intensity and insanity of the wildest Student Assembly election this college has ever seen. I was humbled to be part of that unforgettable experience.

I am very happy it is all over now. I am a free man.