Talk about your microcosms of Utah politics.
Last week, the American Legion-sponsored Utah Boys State convened at Weber State University in Ogden. Boys State, for all of you girls out there, is a program designed to supplement high school civics instruction. Male students from high schools around the state spend the week living in dormitories on campus and studying American government. They hold mock trials and elections, participate in music and sports, and attend seminars and speeches presented by various state officials, such as the attorney general and the governor.
One of the highlights of a Boys State week (besides trying to sneak out of the dorms every night) is the annual spirited debate between representatives of the two political parties -- usually the state chairmen for the Republicans and Democrats.
I only know all of this because one of my bosses asked me to serve as moderator for this year's debate.
I know. I laughed, too. Hard.
But when the laughing subsides, and your editor looks at you and asks, "What's so funny?" you suddenly realize he was serious.
I am, I suppose, technically a member of the media. And the Utah Boys State organizers do try to get a member of the media to act as moderator each year.
But usually, it's someone like our editorial page editor. You know, someone who's at least marginally politically savvy, someone who could at least tell you who the state party chairmen are.
But the editorial page editor just happened to be out of town last week. As were, apparently, their second through 30th choices for moderator.
Which is how, last Thursday, the world's most clueless journalist ended up standing in the Shepherd Union Building Ballroom at WSU, wearing a stupid suit, microphone in hand, facing a hundred or so high school students and trying not to say anything that would be considered too incredibly idiotic.
On the dais, seated in a chair to the audience's right, was Thomas Wright, chairman of the Utah Republican Party. (Hmmm, "Utah Republican Party." Seems a bit redundant in this conservative state, doesn't it? Almost like they could drop the "Republican" part and just call it "The Utah Party.")
And to the left, on the other side of the platform, sat ... an empty chair.
Man, if that's not emblematic of the current state of Utah politics, I don't know what is.
Not really sure what happened, but the Democrats were a no-show.
As a result, the "debate" basically turned into little more than a pep rally for the Republican party. Every time Mr. Wright would say something about the terrible job Barack Obama was doing, the room full of budding young Republicans would cheer. Then he'd make a reference to the evil "Obamacare," and they'd cheer even louder.
To their credit, the young men of Boys State were asking some fairly solid, thoughtful questions at the "debate." (Indeed, much more thoughtful than the ones I would have asked: "Boxers or briefs?" "Who'd make a better president -- Sarah Palin or Tina Fey? "Why do they call them political 'parties' when nobody looks like they're having any fun?")
But really, with only one side represented on Thursday, it was a little difficult to get any sort of real political dialogue going.
Not that anyone's blaming Mr. Wright here. Hey, he showed up to the debate, and was more than gracious with the students. So you can hardly penalize a guy for volunteering his time to help out the American Legion.
And I suppose we shouldn't be too harsh in our judgment of the opposition party. It's certainly possible that the state's registered Democrats -- both of them -- were gone on vacation or something, and that there just wasn't anyone available to debate the Republicans.
Among the stated objectives and goals of Utah Boys State are:
1. To develop civic leadership and pride in American citizenship.
2. To arouse a keen interest in the detailed study of our government.
3. To develop an understanding of American traditions and beliefs in the United States of America.
4. To learn how to use standard-issue items found in a typical college dorm room -- bedsheets, a curtain rod, a lamp shade -- to successfully launch water balloons halfway across campus.
OK, so that last one isn't an official goal of Boys State. But you gotta admit, it's an admirable one.
So in the end, I'd say Thursday's political "debate" was an overwhelming success. Because if one of the primary purposes of the American Legion Boys State program is to teach young men how our system of government works, what better way than giving them a classic example of Utah's famed one-party system in action?
Rare Democrat sighting? Alert Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or email@example.com.