JIM DODSON: Our First Boy for President
After reading what John Charles Sams said in The Pilot the other day, I knew I had to meet the guy and try and take his measure.
Like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain, Sams wants to be president of the United States. But unlike them, he isn't afraid to tackle the really tough issues. Here's exactly what he said:
"I want to be president so I can address this 'girls always go first' issue. It seems like it's time for the boys to get to go first some too. And if the girls were really nice, they would be OK with this."
Forget the media frenzy over Obama's "bitter" words and Hillary's sniper-dodging Olympic sprint. So what if John McCain can't tell a Shi'ite from a Sunni Muslim? Here's an aspirant to our nation's highest elected office articulating what millions of ordinary working guys have wondered across the ages: Why do girls always get to go first?
Hoping to get to John Charles before CNN or Fox News could reach him, I managed to track down his campaign handler, transportation director, and chief policy adviser. In other words, his mom. John Charles is a first-grader at Episcopal Day School.
"Do you think you could bring John Charles by The Pilot for a comprehensive interview?" I put to his mother, Terry Anne Sams. "I'd like to have a frank discussion of his views on a range of topics."
"John Charles has Tae Kwon Do practice this afternoon after school," she said after consulting her daily calendar. "But we could come after that."
I was immediately struck by two things.
No. 1: Compared to everyone else in this year's race, including certain unnamed former presidential figures, their surrogates and siblings, all of whom have been sniffing around these parts lately like Ferdinand the Bull, this candidate is refreshingly accessible -- a regular kid of the people.
No. 2: Here was a guy who clearly planned ahead -- in John Charles Sams' case, decades into the future. The fact that he recently turned 7 years old simply means he's established a new benchmark in early presidential campaigning, revealing a focused vision for the future.
A little after 5 p.m., the candidate and his mother breezed into the offices of The Pilot. She was wearing a classic soccer-mom smile. He was still wearing his snazzy white Tae Kwon Do workout suit and sporty red Crocs. John Charles promptly offered me a firm hand, plus a winning smile of his own. He looked a little like a mini John Edwards, without the pricey haircut.
"Before we start, may I take your measure?" I asked this smallest fellow in the presidential sweepstakes.
"No problem," replied John Charles.
I measured him with a yardstick. The candidate stood 49 inches tall, a whisker over four feet. Suffice to say, he was a pro-growth candidate.
"He grew an inch this year alone," confirmed his smiling handler.
Getting Down to Issues
We settled in chairs in the publisher's office, and I opened my reporter's pad.
"So let's get to this 'girls go first' problem right off the bat," I suggested. "Since that seems to be the basis of your platform, would you care to elaborate a bit?"
John Charles didn't hesitate. "Girls are always supposed to go first, but I think it would be nice if they would let boys go first sometimes," he explained. "It wouldn't be for always, though. But maybe boys could go first for a week or two so they would feel better, too. Maybe just a week. We could have 'Boys Go First Week.'"
"How about the homework issue?" I put to him in my best Charlie Gibson style, glancing skeptically over my eyeglasses. "Too much or too little?" I pointed out a recent survey suggesting that many kids his age are suffering from Premature Academic Overload Syndrome.
"There's a little too much," agreed the candidate. "But just a little. I like doing homework. It's fun. I can do math, you know. Nine plus three is 12. See?"
He gave another toothy smile. This kid's grin made Barack Obama's smile look like a denture ad.
"What about mandatory bath and bedtime? Should there be firmer guidelines?"
John Charles pondered a moment, glancing at his chief policy adviser.
"Some nights we go to the bathtub and, um, some nights we just put on our PJs and go to bed," he explained.
"We brush our teeth and say our prayers, too," his staffer helpfully reminded him.
"That's right," said John Charles. "And once when we went to the cabin, I got to stay up way past 9 o'clock on a school night!"
Frosty in the Bathtub
I suddenly sensed this little dude might be hiding something -- dirty socks under his bed or something worse. So I tossed him a tougher one: Should boys be required to choose a girl when choosing up teams at recess or sit with girls during lunch?
He artfully came back: "Girls are very chatty, you know, so I think they should eat at their table. Sometimes boys talk a lot, too, but they don't usually like to sit with the girls. I played T-ball on the Orioles team last year."
"Did you have any girls on the team?"
"No. Well, maybe one, I think."
"Some might say that's a classic waffle."
"I like waffles," he came back, skillfully dodging the issue.
On the thorny question of having to wait 30 minutes after eating before entering the swimming pool:
"When I went to a hotel with my Nana in March, we went swimming in a nice pool. After that, I had a snack in the hotel room. Once, after I made a good score in spelling, my mom let me eat a Frosty in the bathtub."
"Why would you like to be America's first boy president?" I asked.
"It would be fun. You could do things and see stuff. People could come over to see you. But I wouldn't be the first. Abraham Lincoln was a boy, too."
I asked who he would invite and what he planned to serve at his Inaugural party, if or when he's elected president when he's officially eligible in 28 years.
"I'll invite everybody in Southern Pines," he replied. "We'll have popcorn and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and -- oh yeah -- french fries and chocolate milk."
"Are you a crust-on guy or a crust-off?"
His senior aide answered, "definitely crust on."
"Cooked broccoli," I put to him. "For it or against it?"
The candidate simply clamped a hand over his mouth and made a bug-eyed face.
His VP Choice
To get a better picture of how his mind worked, I asked candidate John Charles Sams to name the last book he read.
"'Thomas and the Treasure,'" he said. "Thomas doesn't say bad words at all."
Next, I asked who he might select for a running mate, a potential vice president.
He thought for a moment. "Taft Gantt. He goes to my school. We don't like the same kinds of things, but I like him. He'd be OK."
Given the intense personal scrutiny by the press that's bound to come any day, I asked John Charles if he had ever smoked cigarettes, used alcohol, taken performance-enhancing drugs, wagered on sports teams, had multiple divorces, or been involved with persons of questionable character involving a government expense account.
He glanced at his chief policy adviser again.
"Not that we know of," she answered with a giggle.
"But I do like to lie on the grass of my yard and look at the sky," he admitted. "I like clouds. And we have dogs."
I saw a potential red flag, a classic gotcha. "In your White House, will animals be allowed to sit on the furniture?"
"Sure," he replied. "Dixie and Phoebe sleep on the sofa a lot."
"Do you have a personal hero, someone you look up to?" I asked, switching tacks to try to crack this character's cool composure.
"Spiderman," he answered smoothly. "He can make webs shoot out of his arms and climb walls."
"If you become president, what would you like to do for the American people?"
"If they drop things," John Charles answered somewhat enigmatically, "I would like to help pick them up so they didn't break. People should exercise, too. But if they're too busy one day, that's OK. They can do it tomorrow."
'Boys Go First'
The candidate's handler glanced at the clock. The candidate himself gave a tiny yawn. I feared his interest might be waning, a la Ronald Reagan. Or maybe it was just getting close to his supper and bath time.
"One last question," I said to him. "What's the first thing you'll do as president of the United States?"
"Boys go first," he answered.
You had to give him this much -- he knew how to stay on message.
The next afternoon, I received a gracious hand-printed letter from presidential candidate John Charles Sams. It said:
"Dear Mr. Dodson,
"Thank you for letting me come to your work.
"Love, John Charles."
The kid didn't miss a trick. Here was a candidate not only willing to express his true feelings on the issues but also lie in the grass just watching the clouds pass. He appeared to have it all -- youth, style, optimism, a natural ability to add primary numbers, good looks, excellent manners, nice penmanship, and snappy red Crocs.
In just another 28 years, he'll probably have my vote, too.
Bestselling author Jim Dodson, the Pilot's writer-in-residence, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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