If you’re a fan of movies (who isn’t?) and a follower of politics (who is?), I would strongly recommend you see “Please Vote For Me,” a documentary about a third grade class election in China. (It is available via the online viewing option on Netflix, if you’re interested.)
Of course, you may wonder – what’s so interesting about a 3rd grade class monitor election in China? But like any good documentary, there are themes that are immediately recognizable to followers of politics in America.
The context is important – here is a country where communism still reigns, yet the teacher goes ahead with the class experiment in democracy. So here you have people with no concept of how democracy works – yet as soon as the election starts, the kids immediately begin to utilize campaign tricks endemic to our electoral system. They begin negative campaigning – pointing out each others’ faults, rather than emphasizing their own. The candidates immediately start coordinating dirty tricks to embarrass each other. One kid’s dad takes the whole class on a monorail ride to try to buy votes for his son.
There are a few scenes of their debates that are simply amazing. One kid, Cheng Cheng, accuses the only girl running, Xiaofei, of being unable to lead because she eats her food too slowly. She responds that it shows her to be deliberate. Cheng Cheng tries to turn the class against the other candidate, Luo Lei, by asking how many kids in the class had been beaten by Luo Lei. Half the class raises their hands.
There are a couple ways of looking at the movie. It shows that these dirty tricks – negative campaigning, whispering campaigns, trying to buy votes, are simply an inextricable part of democracy. This should be a wakeup call to all these “good government” groups that lose sleep over the fact that people actually have the right to speak out during campaigns. There’s simply no way to micromanage campaign speech or contributions in a way that achieves some utopian vision of campaigning.
On the other hand, it shows that American candidates often behave like third graders.
Here’s the trailer – although it doesn’t do justice to how interesting of a movie it actually is.