The first time I saw the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I was provided with one of those amazing childhood memories you will never forget. I am of course speaking of the original Gene Wilder version, which is in my top three all-time favorite movies, right between American Physcho and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, here is a quick recap of the story. Lovable little moppet Charlie Becket wins a golden ticket in a contest run by reclusive candy impresario Willy Wonka for a tour of his amazing factory. He is tempted to steal Mr. Wonka's secret formula by a rival candy maker, and contemplates this during the tour along with four other children. Of course, all of the other children are horrible. One is a gluttonous German and two are sassy pants Americans. The most memorable adversary by far, though, was queen of mean, destroyer of dreams, British Paris-Hilton-In-Training, Veruca Salt.
I have found always this ridiculous brat an entertaining caricature, but as the 2012 presidential election approaches, I’m noticing that more and more she resembles something far more frighteningly close to home: the American voter.
When we first meet Veruca, she tells her parents that her recently acquired toys should be thrown out and she demands instead a new pony. Seconds later she sees a Wonka ad promoting the aforementioned contest and she demands a golden ticket. Her complacent parents meet all of her complacent demands. Her father shuts down his entire factory and makes his entire labor force open candy bars until they find a golden ticket for Veruca. Moreover, once she enters Wonka's factory, Veruca’s demands continue. She wants her father to buy her everything she sees, which he offers to do with Wonka refusing him at every pass. This culminates when she demands a goose that lays golden eggs. Once refused, she throws a tantrum of Kardashian proportions, singing the classic song "Don't Care How, I Want It Now!" She is then sent down a trash chute after stepping on a scale which deems her a "Bad Egg."
Just like Veruca, American voters demand answers for the economy and other extremely complex issues now, and just like her father, politicians on both sides promise they will fix them immediately. We vote with knee-jerk reactions based on who can make the most ridiculous promises. Americans seem to have forgotten that what is good for the country in the long-term isn't a quick fix, and more importantly, that the foundation of a strong nation, economically and otherwise, almost always requires some sort of sacrifice. What is good for the country isn't always going to be good for you personally. There is no “I” in America ... well, there is, but you get what I mean.
We say we are tired of the lies and the promises, but are we really prepared for the cold hard facts of what's going on? New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman vented his frustration in a recent op-ed, saying, "For once, Mr. President, let’s start a debate with the truth. Tell us what you really think will be required to get us out of this stagnation, what kind of collective action and shared sacrifice will be needed and why that can lead not just to muddling through, not just to being OK, but to restoring American greatness."
This is great in theory, but telling Americans the whole truth about the economy would be like answering honestly when you’re pregnant wife asks you if she looks big during the third trimester. We blame politicians for pandering, but in all honesty, pandering is what gets them elected. We need to educate ourselves about the problems at hand in order to distinguish an executable campaign platform from an unrealistic and impossible quick fix. That's how the GOP wound up with a front-runner who seems to think we can actually just pray away economic instability.
When we better ourselves, we will better our politicians. If not, we can just continue spinning our wheels looking for fast answers and end up like Veruca stuck in a trash chute ... which by the way led to an incinerator.
Photo Credit: majorvols