Student Body Presidential Debate
October 20, 2020, 1:30pm, PST
Location: The NRH auditorium. Tom Rosen and Chloe Gold stand at podiums on opposite ends of the stage. At a table in the center sit Lee Lindberg, David Weber, and Laurie Pence. The auditorium seats are packed with students, teachers, and administrators, who talk in a noisy buzz.
Mitch Bennett enters stage right and stands at a microphone that has been set up at the front. He holds up his hands.
Mitch: If I could have everyone’s attention, we’re about ready to get started.
The audience begins to settle down and in a few moments the room is silent.
Mitch: Well, this is an amazing turnout. I’m sure that I’m speaking for the candidates as well as myself, when I say that it’s awesome to see this much interest in this election. It also means a lot to see so many teachers and administrators here. I guess at the end of the day, we’re all in this together.
So, let me introduce the candidates. To my right, Mr. Tom Rosen.
Loud applause and whistling.
Mitch: Mr. Rosen has been campaigning on the slogan “by the students and for the students” and has said that the independence of student government is his top priority.
Boy in audience: Keep your eyes on ‘em, Tom!!
Mitch: To my left, Miss Chloe Gold…
Raucous applause and foot stamping. A chant of “Chloe! Chloe! Chloe!” goes up. Someone blasts an air horn. Mitch raises his hands again and waits for quiet.
Mitch: Miss Gold has said that it is her intention to work closely with the administration and to ensure that students are represented on administrative and faculty committees. Her campaign message has been “A new kind of school needs a new kind of student government.” Please welcome both candidates.
Enthusiastic applause. Whistles and shouts. Another blast of the air horn.
Mitch: Let me say a few things about the format for today’s debate. Each of the candidates will have five minutes to make an opening statement. A coin-toss has determined that Mr. Rosen will speak first, followed by Miss Gold.
After opening statements, each candidate will get to pose questions to the opposing candidate, who will be given the opportunity to respond. Our journalist’s roundtable will be next. Lee Lindberg, David Weber, and Laurie Pence — who along with myself comprise the Standard’s editorial board — will pose questions to the candidates; our own as well as those submitted by students.
Finally, the candidates will be allowed a two minute closing statement. A second coin toss has determined that Mr. Rosen will give the first closing statement, followed by Miss Gold.
One last thing. We appreciate the enthusiasm that you’ve shown for this event. By all means, applaud, when candidates have finished their statements or when they have completed a round. I only ask that you not applaud while candidates are speaking. And no booing, please. Let’s keep this a civil debate. Mr. Rosen, you may make your opening statement.
Tom takes the microphone from its stand and comes around his podium to the front of the stage.
Tom: Before I talk about my candidacy, I’d like to thank Mitch and the editors at the Standard. They’ve worked tirelessly to bring the student body the most comprehensive, in-depth news coverage that I’ve ever seen in a high school election.
Tom claps and soon the entire room is applauding.
Tom: The editorial that appeared in the Standard two weeks ago made an important point. It said that there are no issues in this campaign, no “longstanding concerns” or “common causes” and that’s exactly right. New Ridgemont High is brand new, and so far it’s been pretty damned fantastic. I have no complaints. So, to correct something I’ve heard said about me, I am by no means the “anti-Friedman” candidate.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m the pro-Friedman candidate either. And that’s one thing that distinguishes me from Miss Gold. She is admittedly, unabashedly pro-Friedman and will actively work to further the administration’s agenda.
I’m neither for Friedman nor against him. I’m the pro-student candidate. And that means that the only agenda that I’ll be working for is yours, the student agenda. Government by the students and for the students.
A large contingent of students erupts in noisy applause.
Tom: [Holding up his hands] Please, guys, I really appreciate it, but Mitch is right. Let’s do this by the numbers.
My stance is partly a matter of principle. The administration is powerful and has a lot of powerful interests behind it, including local and state government. The student-body President and Cabinet are the only representation that students will have in New Ridgemont High, so it’s particularly important that we be representatives and not tools of the administration.
But it’s also a matter of practicality. At some point, the interests of the students and of the administration are going to diverge, even clash, and when that day comes, it is essential that student government be independent and that the student-body President be independent.
I can guarantee you of my independence. I don’t believe my opponent can. It’s as simple as that. Thanks again, and I look forward to a stimulating and informative debate.
Applause breaks out. Shouts and whistles. Tom returns to his podium and Mitch steps up to the microphone.
Mitch: Thank you, Mr. Rosen. You’ve given us a lot to think about. Miss Gold, you have five minutes to make your opening statement.
Chloe stands to the side of her podium.
Chloe: My opponent’s candidacy is based on a false assumption: that one can only maintain one’s independence from a position of opposition. I don’t believe that. The notion that we can work constructively with the administration is not at odds with the idea that the purpose of student government is to represent student interests. Indeed, I would argue that at New Ridgemont High, the best way to represent those interests is through a close collaboration with Dr. Friedman and with the rest of the administration, faculty, and staff.
The logic that Tom describes is one I would agree with if we were anywhere but here. But the principles that motivate him are already built into New Ridgemont High. Tom admits that there are no standing issues or concerns — that our school, thus far, has been, as he put it, “pretty damned fantastic” — and yet the entire tone and substance of his campaign suggests the opposite. He’s fighting a fight that doesn’t need to be fought; guarding against eventualities that Dr. Friedman has explicitly ruled out, in the very way he has conceived of and developed New Ridgemont High.
What are we supposed to stand in opposition to? And on behalf of what? More freedom? Students here are freer than they would be at any other school in the country. Better teachers? Dr. Friedman has hand-selected the best teachers in L.A. county. I mean, can you imagine better teachers than Bobbie Novak, Sal Levy, or Jules Longo? Fairness and equity? More than any other school, New Ridgemont High offers opportunities and resources to students across the spectrum: for the first time that I am aware of, theater kids don’t have to beg for the scraps left over from sports; computer and electronics enthusiasts aren’t made to feel like losers and social misfits; shop and other vocational classes are fully funded and staffed. No one is being left out at our school.
Tom’s campaign is based entirely on fear and suspicion, and as well-meaning as they may be, they represent a fundamentally negative mindset. My campaign, in contrast, is entirely positive. I start from the idea that New Ridgemont High is a very special thing and that we are lucky to be a part of it, and my aim, if elected, is to build on that foundation: to help Dr. Friedman, in every way that I can; to propose new ideas when I have them and to help implement those ideas that are already on the table; and to work as a full partner in this amazing experiment. My campaign slogan is, “A new kind of school requires a new kind of student government,” and a new kind of student government is what I intend to create. I hope you’ll all join with me in this new, exciting effort, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The students, who until now have been sitting in hushed attention, erupt with applause, whistles, and shouts. The chant of “Chloe! Chloe! Chloe!” starts up again.
Chloe steps back behind her podium and looks down, her cheeks slightly red. Mitch returns to the microphone.
Mitch: Thank you, Miss Gold. Now, the candidates will have the opportunity to question one another. The first question will go to Mr. Rosen.
Tom: An admirable speech for a PR manager … or a highly educated groupie.
Mitch: This is question time, Mr. Rosen, not time to make another speech.
Tom: Sorry, just an offhand remark. Forget it.
Chloe: I’m sure it was just an innocent mistake.
Tom: [Trying to suppress a smile] Okay, a question. Miss Gold …
Chloe: Yes, Mr. Rosen.
Tom: The thing you said towards the end struck me. When you described how balanced everything is: how resources are spread evenly, across all the student constituencies.
Tom: Is that what schools were like in the 1980’s?
Mitch: Are you asking one question, Mr. Rosen?
Tom: It’s a line of questioning.
Chloe: It’s OK, Mitch. Let him do it his way.
Mitch: I’ll allow it.
Chloe: Could you ask the question again, please?
Tom: The “Even-Steven” philosophy at New Ridgemont High. Is that what schools were like in the ‘80’s?
Chloe: No, sports were privileged then too. And the stuff which went with it: cheerleading, marching band … kick-line.
Tom: I see. So this school is as much a matter of advancing Friedman’s personal preferences — for theater, the arts, vocational ed., and other “marginalized” areas — as it is of genuinely recreating an 80’s high school, for laboratory purposes.
Chloe: New Ridgemont High is the result of an idea, Tom, not an ideology. It doesn’t have to be – it shouldn’t be – to the letter.
Tom: Seems pretty ideological to me. Like something right out of the 1960’s. Let’s all hold hands, sing “Kumbaya” and be equal together. Not very ‘80s.
Chloe: New Ridgemont High isn’t some utopian cult, Tom. It’s a school based on the idea that schools can be better and teens can have better lives, if we adopt some of the principles and practices of 80’s era high schools. But it’s not a slave to those principles and practices. If New Ridgemont High serves anything, it’s the idea of betterment, and I agree with Principal Friedman that a more equitable distribution of school resources is better than a less equitable one.
Tom: You explain it better than he does.
Chloe: What’s your point?
Tom: The point is clear, if you care to see it. You’ve just admitted that you intend to serve Friedman’s interests, rather than the students’.
Chloe: How do you figure that?
Tom: Well, how do you know that students want an “equitable” distribution of school resources? If you put the matter to a vote of the student body, do you think people would want to spend as much money on the latest installation of Teen Theater as on football games, including cheerleaders, marching bands and … what was the last thing you mentioned with such reverence? Oh yeah, “kick lines.”
Chloe: I don’t know, Tom. Do you?
Tom: I think everyone does. More cheerleaders and kick-lines. Less Teen Theater.
Chloe: You might be right, if it was put to a straight vote.
Tom: Well, that’s the point and the difference between you and me. You want to impose your ideas — and Friedman’s ideas — of “betterment” on the students. I don’t. As Student Body President, my job is to advocate for what the students want, not what I or my idol wants.
Chloe: [Smiling] You’re right, Tom, that is one big difference between you and me. You see, I think that the job of President – any President – is to lead as well as follow popular opinion. I’m not ashamed of wanting to lead on things like fairness and decency, Tom. Are you?
Mitch: I’m going to call that the end of our first round. I think that both points were fully developed and aired.
Tom: I agree.
Chloe: So, do I.
Mitch: Since we’re agreed, let’s move on to our second round. Miss Gold, you now have a chance to pose a question — or start a line of questioning — for Mr. Rosen.
Chloe: Tom, the reasons you’ve given for your candidacy, so far, have been entirely abstract; even philosophical. Now, I like philosophy as much as the next girl, but I’d like to know what you actually plan on doing, if you win.
Tom: Whatever the students want me to do.
Chloe: And what do they want you to do?
Tom: I don’t know yet.
Chloe: So, all this time you’ve been campaigning and you haven’t bothered to find out what the students want?
Tom: If I win, I plan to hold a series of “town hall” style meetings to determine that.
Chloe: Hmm, it seems like you’ve given us a lot of promissory notes. If you get elected, you’ll find out what people want. If Dr. Friedman suddenly turns into Juan Peron, you’ll be independent. Not a lot to go on, is it?
Tom: That’s all a political campaign is: a bunch of promises. There’s no way anyone can know, in advance, whether we’re actually going to do what we say.
Chloe: Why are you so cynical, Tom?
Tom: Not cynical, careful.
Chloe: Refusing to ever trust anyone doesn’t strike me as merely being “careful.”
Mitch: Miss Gold, remember that you’re supposed to be asking questions of Mr. Rosen.
Chloe: I’ll move on.
Mitch: Thank you.
Tom: That’s cute, the way you two do that.
Chloe: [Coolly] So, let’s just assume that we’re all telling the truth. You win the election. You hold several Town Hall meetings and end up with a list of things that the students want. Oh, by the way, which students?
Tom: What do you mean?
Chloe: Well, there are a lot of students. Presumably, there’s a lot of things that they want. Which students’ requests will you act on?
Tom: The majority’s. I’ll represent majority interests.
Chloe: That was the whole point of your “Teen Theater” remark, wasn’t it?
Tom: Afraid so.
Chloe: And too bad for the shop kids, too? And the techies?
Tom: Not everyone can get what they want, when resources are finite. If there’s enough left over, of course I’ll be happy to advance the minority’s interests.
Chloe: Your generosity is humbling.
Tom: It’s called democracy, Chloe. You know, the system we have here in the United States.
Chloe: That’s one way of describing it.
Tom: I don’t know what you’re getting so upset about. After all, you said you were for “fairness.” What’s more fair than majority rule?
Chloe: I think you’ve forgotten something.
Tom: What’s that?
Chloe: The United States isn’t just a democracy. There are all sorts of constitutional protections for minorities. The Founders understood that fairness means a lot more than just majority rule.
Tom: I disagree. True, there are things that are harder to pass – you need super-majorities to amend the Constitution, for example – but at the end of the day, it’s majority rule. If enough people wanted to, they could overturn the entire Bill of Rights.
Chloe: I think you’re missing the principle for the details, but let’s get back to my original line of questioning.
Tom: Fine with me.
Chloe: We’re assuming that you’ve won and that you’ve found out what the majority wants. How do you plan on getting those things done?
Tom: Through whatever means are available to me, as Student Body President.
Chloe: Don’t you think it’s going to be a little hard, given your attitude? I mean, do you think that Principal Friedman is going to want to work with you, after you’ve spent a month running a defiant, oppositional campaign?
Tom: It doesn’t matter if he wants to work with me. If I’m Student Body President, he’ll have to work with me.
Chloe: I thought you were supposed to be the realist and I was supposed to be the naïve idealist.
Tom: Your point?
Chloe: Well, this isn’t the United States government. It’s student government. And if you think you can get anything done when you have an antagonistic relationship with the administration, then you are naïve.
Tom: We’ll see about that.
Chloe: One last thing.
Chloe: Do you think it’s easier to solve problems before they start or in the early stages or after they’ve metastasized into full blown catastrophes?
Tom: In the abstract, the former. But I can’t be more specific, until I know what you’re getting at.
Chloe: What I’m getting at is the underlying logic of your position. Let’s suppose that you’re right and that Principal Friedman or others in the administration “turn.”
Tom: I think that’s inevitable.
Chloe: I know, you’re just being “careful.” But, who do you think will have a better chance of heading off a rogue administration? The person who’s been working with it throughout and can see the warning signs early? Or the person who’s been on the outside the whole time and doesn’t realize it, until it’s already happened?
Tom: Put that way, the first person. But I might put it another way.
Chloe: And how’s that?
Tom: Who do you think is more likely to spot trouble early? The person who has maintained a healthy distance and is skeptical or a person who’s drunk the whole pitcher of Friedman-Kool-Aid?
Mitch: I’m going to call that the end of this round. I think you’ve both made your respective points very clearly.
Mitch: And since we’ve had an extensive back and forth, already, I’m going to suggest skipping formal rebuttals and going straight to our roundtable, if there are no objections.
Tom: Sounds good to me.
Chloe: Me too.
Mitch: Then I’ll turn things over to the Standard editors: Lee Lindberg, David Weber, and Laurie Pence. Lee?
Lee: Miss Gold, it seems to me that you haven’t answered Mr. Rosen’s main charge against you: that
you won’t be an independent student-body President, but will be in cahoots with the administration.
Chloe: I reject your characterization. ‘Cahoots’ implies that something bad is going on. Working with the administration to try and ensure that students have the best possible experience at New Ridgemont High is not “being in cahoots” with it.
Lee: With all due respect, you’re dodging the question. Mr. Rosen was very clear in specifying that he was concerned about your independence, in case the administration “turned” and was no longer acting in students’ interests.
Chloe: If it seemed like a dodge, I apologize. That wasn’t what I meant, but I should have been more explicit. I don’t think that’s very likely.
Lee: Yeah, I got that. and it bothers me even more. I’m wondering if maybe you like Principal Friedman just a little bit too much.
Mitch: Lee, that’s out of bounds!
Lee: [Snorts] Like hell it is.
Chloe: It’s OK Mitch, I’ll answer it.
Mitch: [Looking angry] Okay, since you don’t object, I’ll allow it. This time. But, I’m warning you, Lee, find a more civil way to ask your questions, or I’ll move on to Laurie.
Lee: Yes, your awesomeness.
Chloe: I’m not embarrassed to admit that I like and admire Principal Friedman a lot. How could anyone not? He’s not just brilliant and accomplished, he’s devoted his entire career to trying to help us and our brothers and sisters across California, not to mention the rest of America. Do I need to remind you what the schools in the rest of the country are like? Have you forgotten how bad things have gotten out there for teens? The fact is that Principal Friedman cares more about us and kids like us than anyone out there today, so, no, I don’t think it’s very likely that he’ll suddenly turn into some kind of monster.
Lee: That’s not what I meant by liking him too much.
Chloe: I know what you meant, and you’re wrong. That’s not the only reason people like one another. Call me crazy, but I like people who are going out of their way to try and help me and to help others.
Lee: Fine, but he doesn’t have to turn into a monster to do things that students might have a problem with.
Chloe: Look, if the Principal proposes or does something that I think goes against student interests, I’ll oppose him. I just don’t see any reason to start out on that footing; to look for trouble, especially in this case, given what New Ridgemont High is all about.
Lee: If you think it goes against student interests. What if you don’t think it does, but the majority of students do?
Chloe: It depends on what it is, Lee. Like I said to Tom, my job is to lead as well as follow popular opinion. If the majority of students decide that they want nothing but candy served in the cafeteria and the administration refuses, I’m going to side with the administration.
Lee: Not exactly a likely scenario, is it?
Chloe: It’s just an example, to make the point.
Mitch: Mr. Rosen, do you want to say anything, in response to Lee’s question?
Tom: No, I’m happy to let Miss Gold’s answer stand on its own.
Mitch: Then let’s turn to Laurie Pence. Laurie?
Laurie: Thank you, Mitch. This question is for both candidates and is drawn from questions put to us by a number of students. Over the last several weeks, the subject of your personal wealth has come up. People have expressed concern that you both come from Beverly Hills and that you’ve spent quite a bit of money on your respective campaigns. Can you understand that some might wonder how two people from such privileged backgrounds can genuinely represent the interests of “ordinary” students? Mr. Rosen, why don’t you go first?
Tom: Well, the students here are hardly “ordinary.” It is a Valley school, after all, with a population heavily drawn from this area. It may not be as Richie-Rich as Beverly Hills, but it’s not that far off.
Laurie: That doesn’t really answer the question, though, does it? And Principal Friedman has gone to some lengths to recruit poorer kids.
Tom: Some might call what he’s done “tokenism,” but you’re right, I didn’t answer the question.
Tom: I can’t change the fact that my parents are wealthy, and I won’t apologize for running the best campaign I can, given my personal resources. I mean, it would be a little absurd to suggest that I should run less of a campaign than I am capable of, just for the sake of appearances.
Laurie: Is that it?
Tom: No, I’d like to add one more thing. Anyone who knows me from Beverly Hills knows that I was hardly juiced in with the popular crowd there. As Miss Gold can attest, I was a Floater and that made me pretty independent of the pressures of the in-cliques.
Chloe: That’s true. Tom’s not your typical Beverly Hills High student.
Laurie: If I can push you a little bit on that, Mr. Rosen.
Tom: Sure, go ahead.
Laurie: Well, that crack about “Teen Theater” and your point regarding sports. They sure sounded like “in-clique” kind of stuff.
Tom: Yeah, I’m sorry I put it that way. Look, I’m not a sporto. I didn’t even play sports at Beverly Hills.
Laurie: Then why the disdain for theater, shop, and other “marginalized areas,” as you described them?
Tom: It wasn’t disdain. I meant what I said. It’s about democracy. I don’t believe that students want this “perfect equity” that Friedman has been pushing and which Miss Gold supports.
Laurie: Okay, but what’s your personal view? Miss Gold made a point about advocating for fairness and decency. Do you think it’s fair or decent for sports and sports-related activities to get the lion-share of school money and prestige?
Tom: I’m not going to answer that; at least not directly. Remember, I don’t think that my personal preferences are relevant. I’m running to represent the students’ preferences, not my own.
Laurie: Miss Gold?
Chloe: I agree a lot with Tom; at least, with the first part of what he said. I can’t help who my parents are or how much money they have. And I’m not going to run a less-polished campaign, just so that I can try and pretend otherwise. It would be dishonest and wouldn’t work, anyway.
Laurie: Unlike Mr. Rosen, though, you have been involved with sports. You were a cheerleader at Beverly Hills, and if I’m not mistaken, you just made the cheerleading squad here too.
Chloe: That’s right. I love cheerleading. It’s like the best parts of dance and gymnastics mixed together, without the bad parts.
Laurie: So, how do you counter the worry about your capacity to represent “ordinary people’s” interests?
Chloe: By my words and actions. Look at what I’m advocating. Look at my social circle. I think you’ll find that I’m hardly a part of any of the top-cliques here. I’ve made friends across the student-body, from every income-level and every social scene.
Tom: I should say on Miss Gold’s behalf: even though she was a cheerleader at Beverly Hills, she was a Floater too. In fact, we used to run together, quite a bit.
Chloe: Tom’s right. I wasn’t in the popular set, at Beverly Hills. Cheerleading was my only real contact with that group.
Laurie: So, you two have personal history?
Chloe: Yes, we’ve known each other since second grade. Our parents are friends, and we were pretty much best friends at Beverly Hills. We haven’t hung out at all since we’ve come to New Ridgemont High though. I don’t know why. You’d have to ask Tom that.
Laurie: So, is this election some kind of personal thing between you two? Some private battle you two are fighting?
Chloe: Not for me, it isn’t.
Laurie: Mr. Rosen?
Tom: [Smiling] Of course, not. This is about what’s best for the students at New Ridgemont High.
Mitch: Thank you, Laurie. Let’s turn to David Weber, who will close out this segment of today’s debate.
David: Mr. Rosen, I thought I heard you say that when a person becomes student-body President, he checks his conscience at the door. Did I really hear that?
Tom: I never said that.
David: Really? I thought you did. All that stuff about – lemme see, I wrote it down – “my preferences aren’t relevant” and “I’m running to represent the students’ preferences, not my own.”
Tom: Sure, I said that, but you’ve got to stretch things a few miles to turn it into “checking your conscience at the door.”
David: Hmm, seems more like a few feet to me. You were clearly talking about moral preferences, not your preference for vanilla over chocolate or blondes over brunettes. If I recall correctly – let me look at my notes again – you were expressing resentment at Dr. Friedman’s and Miss Gold’s “imposing their view of betterment” on the students.
Tom: That’s fair, and yes, I stand by it.
David: If I also recall correctly, the particular points of betterment at issue were the “equitable distribution of resources” and the decent treatment of students from “less popular” cliques, more generally. Are you seriously suggesting that being neutral on those things is good?
Tom: That’s a hard question.
David: Yeah, I have a bad habit of asking those.
Tom: There’s an answer, but it’s subtle.
David: I’ll concentrate extra hard.
Tom: Personally, I’m for the things you just mentioned.
David: I sense a “but” coming.
Tom: [Smiling] But, if I become Student Body President I won’t be representing my personal views. I’ll be representing the students’ views, and the only fair – and I’d argue, “decent” – way to do that is by the principle of majority rule.
David: I feel like we’re going around in circles. It’s exactly that attitude that I’m asking you about. Isn’t that sort of neutrality really just amorality?
Tom: It would be, if I was acting as Tom Rosen, but I wouldn’t be. I’d be acting as Student Body President.
David: So you’re saying that you become the position? That you’re not your own person anymore?
Tom: When acting as Student Body President? Yes. And there’s nothing weird about that. Think about judges or referees. If they can’t put their personal feelings and values aside, they’re obligated to recuse themselves.
David: I don’t think that being Student Body President is anything like being a judge or a referee, but I’ll leave it at that.
Mitch: Miss Gold, would you like to say anything in response to David’s question?
Chloe: I guess that I’m wondering what the point is of having a Student Body President, then. If all you’re going to do is mouth the majority line, why not just let the students vote on issues, as they come up?
David: Mr. Rosen?
Tom: Yes. Government by plebiscite is inefficient. That’s why you have representatives.
Chloe: [Somewhat in disbelief] You’re saying people should vote for you for Student Body President, because it’s efficient?
Tom: Yeah, I know, not very sexy is it? See, I’m just running for a temporary office. I’m not trying to be King of New Ridgemont High.
Mitch: Do either of you have anything else to say on this question?
Mitch: Then, it’s time for closing statements. Mr. Rosen, you have two minutes.
Tom steps out from around the podium and stands at the front of the stage.
Tom: Miss Gold has said that my campaign is “abstract” and lacks specifics. She’s been critical of my skepticism towards the administration and has promised to “lead” and not just “follow.” And it’s all true. I haven’t been as specific or as inspirational as Miss Gold. But, in closing, I’d like to suggest that it’s better for me to be this way; that all of my opponents’ plans and visions are largely beside the point, at least, given where things stand now.
The fact is, any talk of plans or “leading rather than following” is premature, because we have no idea what sorts of powers the Student Government will actually have. The administration hasn’t decided that yet. So, neither Miss Gold nor I know what we’ll be able to do, in any concrete sense, if we’re elected.
It seems to me that in a situation like this, the only thing you can run on are your general principles; on what your overall attitude is going to be, regardless of what the job actually involves. I’ve done that. I’ve told you that I have no personal agenda and that I’ll represent the students’ interests, in whatever ways I can. I’ve said that my basic stance towards the administration is adversarial, but not antagonistic. And that’s it. ‘Cause that’s all I can say at this point given what we know.
My opponent, meanwhile, has gotten on a pretty high horse. She’s not just going to be Student Body President, she’s going to be the Morality Exchequer for Principal Friedman. She’s going to make sure that we’re all nice to each other. She’s going to help Friedman build a bigger and better New Ridgemont High. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you agree with her and Principle Friedman’s conception of morality and with their idea of what counts as a “better New Ridgemont High.” But whether you do or don’t, it’s still nothing but talk. Because Miss Gold has no idea whether she’ll actually have the power to do any of the things she’s talked about. She doesn’t know if she’ll be invited into the Principal’s inner-sanctum. She doesn’t know whether the Student Government will have any real powers or even a measly veto.
I hope that Miss Gold is correct and that the administration will fully enfranchise Student Government and continue to be a friend to us. But whether it does or not, you can know at least one thing for certain: that I will represent you, in any and every way I can. I thank you all for your support.
Tom returns to his podium. There is loud applause and the stamping of feet.
Mitch: Miss Gold, you now have two minutes to make a closing statement.
Chloe steps in front of her podium and rests her elbow on it.
Chloe: My opponent has said that he isn’t cynical, but everything he says drips with cynicism. Principal Friedman might seem to be a nice guy, but just beneath the surface, there’s a fascist dictator waiting to break loose. I may say that I want to support the values of equality and friendliness, but I’m really just a stealth-Nurse Ratched, trying to lobotomize you. He says these things and makes these veiled attacks –and make no mistake, they are attacks – in such a reasonable-sounding way, but the truth is, it’s pretty crazy stuff.
Fortunately, I know Tom – let’s just drop this “Mr.” and “Miss” thing – and he’s not crazy. So, I can only conclude that this is his idea of tactics. And given how little he’s thought about the job – about what he’s actually going to do if he wins – I have to wonder if he really wants it. Or whether he’s on some other kind of trip entirely.
One more thing: about this notion that we shouldn’t make any plans or talk about the future, because we don’t know what the powers of our Student Government are going to be. I reject it. In fact, it’s such a bad argument that I wonder whether Tom’s making it just to distract everyone from the fact that he has no plans of his own. “Yeah, it’s true that I haven’t thought about Student Government for even five minutes and have no ideas, but it doesn’t matter, because we don’t know whether our Student Government will even be a Student Government.” Pretty lame stuff, Tom.
That kind of doubt only applies if Tom is right about the alleged nefarious intentions of the administration. Because that’s the only way that anyone would believe that Principal Friedman is going to screw us over, on Student Government. But as I’ve already pointed out, there’s no reason to think that at all. In fact, there’s every reason to think the opposite. Tom has admitted that New Ridgemont High has been “pretty damned fantastic.” I think so too. So, I’ve made plans. Over the course of my campaign, I’ve told you what many of them are. In the coming days, I’ll tell you more. Thank you very much.
Chloe steps back behind her podium. A large segment of the audience leaps to its feet, wildly applauding. Shouts of “Chloe!” ring out, against a backdrop of cheering and air horn blasts.
Mitch: This ends our debate program. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the candidates, for what I think everyone will agree was a fascinating, rousing performance, and to thank all of you for your enthusiastic participation.
A roar rises up from the crowd and a number of students start a noisy chant of “RIDGEMONT! RIDGEMONT!” Will Friedman, who has been sitting quietly in the front row, comes to the foot of the stage and signals to Mitch.
Mitch: Before we adjourn, Principal Friedman would like to say a few words.
Friedman jogs up the steps on the left side of the stage and takes the microphone, which Mitch offers to him, after shaking his hand vigorously. Friedman is beaming.
Friedman: I wasn’t planning on saying anything, but after what I’ve just witnessed, I feel like I need to personally congratulate the two candidates. Tom, Chloe, your command of history, political philosophy, the American Constitution, and the art of debate is impressive and inspiring. Your debate was as good as any I’ve seen at any level of government in quite some time. The two of you have done yourselves and New Ridgemont High proud.
Friedman claps loudly and the audience leaps to their feet again. Shouts of “Chloe!” and “Tom!” echo across the room. Then, he holds up his hands.
Friedman: And I would be remiss not to give special thanks to Mitch Bennett and to Lee Lindberg, Laurie Pence, and David Weber. Mitch, what you and your team have done is nothing short of a miracle: an incredible program today and a month’s worth of top-quality news coverage on this campaign. I’m humbled and so proud of you that I could burst.
Loud hoots and whistles. Friedman puts his arm around Mitch, who is flushed with excitement, and squeezes him. Lee, Laurie, and David whisper among themselves, bright smiles on their faces.
Friedman: Mr. Bennett, would you like to dismiss them or shall I?
Mitch: No, I’ll do it. Okay, guys! You’re all dismissed! Have a great afternoon!
A final roar goes up, and the students file noisily from the auditorium. Mitch, Lee, Laurie, David, Tom, and Chloe remain on the stage.
Friedman approaches Tom and seizes his hand, pumping it enthusiastically.
Friedman: Tom, a remarkable showing. Thank you so much!
Tom: [Appearing slightly stunned] Uh, you’re welcome, Sir. I did my best.
Friedman: You did more than that. God, man, you were strong up there! Serious and casual at the same time. Clear in your own mind and even clearer in speech. Smart. Clever. You’ve got a gift for this.
Tom: That’s really nice of you to say, though I have to admit, I’m a little surprised.
Friedman: Why’s that?
Tom: Well, I guess I didn’t expect you to be as happy as you are about it. I was pretty rough.
Friedman [Looking Tom straight in the eye]: Did you mean it?
Tom: [Studying Friedman carefully] Most of it.
Friedman: And what about the other parts?
Tom: Rhetoric. What else could I do? You see who I’m up against. I was losing before anyone said a word.
Friedman: So, you learned something.
Tom: What’s that?
Friedman: That logic isn’t enough, at least, not if you’re trying to persuade actual people and not just write an “A” paper.
Tom: [Laughs] Yeah, I kinda’ knew that already.
Friedman: Learning is ongoing. Understanding isn’t a one-time thing. It deepens every time you pursue it. And doing – acting on the basis of what you know – that’s something we work at mastering all our lives.
Tom: I like that.
Friedman: I know you do. And that’s why I like you. Well done!
Friedman claps Tom on the back, then crosses the stage to where Chloe is standing, in conversation with Mitch. He takes her hand.
Chloe: Principal Friedman; Will.
Friedman: Chloe, I just congratulated your opponent for a masterful debate, and I’d like to offer the same congratulations to you.
Chloe: Thank you!
Friedman: Your fierce commitment to fairness and decency – your unwavering, clearly heartfelt kindness – I have to tell you, I really was moved.
Chloe: [Her eyes shining] I love this school. And I love the students, all of them. I feel like we’re on some magical voyage together. God, that sounds dumb.
Friedman: It’s not dumb. In fact, it’s exactly how I feel about it, when I’m not playing social scientist. Because at the deepest level, that’s exactly what this is: a miraculous trip that we’re all on together. Even months into it, sometimes, I can’t believe it’s actually happening.
Chloe: I know! There are times when I feel like I never went to Beverly Hills, and there are times when it seems like I was just there yesterday.
Friedman: What you and Tom did today was extraordinary. And important. Not only did everyone get a serious civics lesson, you’ve raised the profile of Student Government. It’ll really mean something to them now, and that means they’ll get involved.
Chloe: Well, it was an honor to participate and a little scary! Tom is tough. Really tough.
Friedman: That, he is.
Chloe: Don’t be mad at him. He means well. He just has to do everything to the fullest, I guess.
Friedman: It’s noble of you to defend him, but you don’t have to. I think Tom’s terrific.
Friedman: Yes, really. We need voices like his. In fact, they’re essential. You know why?
Friedman: Because he’s right. Not about the radical democracy stuff – at least, not in my view – I tend to be more on your side of that divide. No, what he’s right about is his adversarial stance.
Chloe: But, you’d never turn against the students.
Friedman: No, I wouldn’t. But that’s not the only way things can go bad. I know it seems like it’s just us, here, on our own, but it isn’t. As Tom pointed out, there’s a huge infrastructure behind us, and a lot of it is outside New Ridgemont High. What he didn’t say – and I’m not sure, he even realizes – is that we have very little control over it.
Chloe: You should talk to Mitch about that. He has some really good ideas about PR for the school.
Friedman: You read my mind. I’m going to talk to him next. After what I’ve seen here today and for the last month – that young man is someone whose brain I need to pick.
Chloe: He’ll be so glad. He’s been dying to work on the New Ridgemont High project.
Friedman: Let me grab him before it gets too late. Chloe, my admiration and gratitude. Truly.
Friedman hugs Chloe and hurries over to Mitch, who has joined Lee, Laurie, and David. Friedman puts his arm around Mitch’s shoulder.
Friedman: What can I say, Mitch, guys? I am so impressed by what you’ve done here today and over the last month.
Lee: [Looking slightly uncomfortable] Uh, thanks.
Laurie and David: [Flushed and happy] Thank you!
Mitch: I’ve been waiting my whole life for something to get involved in, and finally I’ve found it!
Friedman: Lucky for me that you decided to come to New Ridgemont High. I never would have dreamt of this level of quality in student journalism.
Mitch: We have a lot of ideas; things we’d like to do.
Friedman: I’m counting on it. Why don’t you meet with your people and put together an action plan? Then schedule a meeting with me. I’ll tell my secretary to expect you.
Mitch: [Trembling with excitement] Really? You mean it?
Friedman: [Laughing] Of course I do. I think you and your team can help me and the school an awful lot.
Mitch: Principal Friedman, I don’t know what to say.
Friedman: Well, you can start by calling me “Will,” at least when we’re one-on-one. You can’t keep saying “Principal Friedman” if we’re going to work together. It’ll make talking cumbersome.
Friedman: And don’t wait too long to come and see me. We have a lot of work to do!
Mitch: I won’t, and thank you!
Friedman: No, thank you. I didn’t do this. You guys did. All of you. I’ll catch you later, okay?
Mitch, Lee, Laurie, and David: Okay! Later!
Friedman waves to everyone and exits the auditorium, through the doors behind the stage. Mitch, Lee, Laurie, and David also depart. Chloe walks over to Tom, who is still standing by his podium. He looks contemplative.
Chloe: Well, you certainly put me through my paces, didn’t you?
Tom: Did you expect any less?
Chloe: I guess not. I really didn’t know what to expect, going into it.
Tom: Well, I did warn you that I was going to give you a run for your money.
Chloe: You certainly poisoned the water very effectively. Half the school thinks I’m running for President, ‘cause I want to fuck Will. And your last maneuver was impressive too. Waiting until the very end to drop that stuff about us not knowing what powers Student Government will have.
Tom: [Snorts] For all the good it did. I thought I might unnerve you, but you turned right around and clobbered me.
Chloe: You’re not the only one capable of surprises.
Chloe: So, we’ll know by next week – who won, I mean.
Tom: Yeah, the election’s on Tuesday.
Chloe: You said you were doing this so that I wouldn’t run unopposed. Has it occurred to you that you might have done too good a job and could actually win?
Tom: It’s occurred to me, but it’s extremely unlikely.
Chloe: Really? I think a lot of people thought you won the debate.
Tom: Maybe. But it doesn’t matter. You’re going to win the election.
Chloe: Why do you say that?
Tom: Likability. You came across as caring, concerned, and nice. I came across as a dick. I knew it was a risk, given the strategy I chose.
Chloe: Will I see you around? Or are you gonna’ keep avoiding me?
Tom: You’ll see me around.
Chloe: I’m glad.
Tom: I’ll catch you later, Chloe, okay?
Chloe: Yeah, see you.
Tom gives Chloe a clumsy hug and walks down the steps at the front of the stage. Chloe watches him leave through the main doors.
October 27, 2020, 1:30pm, PST.
Location: The New Ridgemont High Auditorium. The election has been held and the votes tallied. The students, faculty, and administrative staff have assembled to hear which candidate has won. They are waiting for Principal Friedman to arrive and make the announcement. Chloe, Tom, and Mitch are on the stage. Mitch is taking pictures for the paper. A camcorder, on a tripod, stands next to him.
Chloe: Tom, I want to ask you something.
Chloe: If I win, I was hoping you’d be my Vice President.
Tom: I’m surprised. I didn’t think you’d want me anywhere near your government, given the kind of campaign I’ve run.
Chloe: You’ve made a lot of good points, Tom, even if I haven’t always loved how you’ve made them, and I was thinking a lot about what Will – Principal Friedman –said to me after the debate.
Tom: What’s that?
Chloe: He said that skeptical voices like yours are essential to the success of New Ridgemont High.
Tom: He said that?
Chloe: Yes. Not just to keep an eye on the administration, but on all the powers that operate in the background and especially, outside of the school.
Tom: I see. Do you think he’s anticipating trouble? I can’t imagine why. From what I can tell, New Ridgemont High is the darling of the State.
Chloe: No, it’s not that specific. But, he’s come to the same conclusion that you have … about himself and about me.
Tom: I’m not sure I follow. What conclusion?
Chloe: That we both love New Ridgemont High so much that we might not see trouble coming, if it ever does.
Chloe: So, will you? Join me, I mean … if I win?
Tom: Of course I will. I’d be honored.
Chloe: [Smiling and touching Tom’s arm] Thanks, Tom. It means a lot to me.
Friedman enters the auditorium and makes his way up to the podium. He has a folder under his arm, which he opens and lays out in front of him. Mitch moves the camcorder into position and begins taping.
Friedman: Well, the votes are in, and it was a close one! Before I announce the winner, let me say that I think that either Mr. Rosen or Miss Gold would make a fantastic Student Body President. This is not to minimize the differences between the two of them – in many ways, they represent diametrically opposed conceptions of student government. Yet, it is the nature and part of the difficulty of politics that both conceptions are legitimate, given their starting assumptions, both of which are legitimate as well.
The biggest winner, here, though, is neither Mr. Rosen, nor Miss Gold, but New Ridgemont High, itself. Over ninety percent of you voted, and as far as I know, that’s an unprecedented turnout for a high school election. It speaks not only to the quality of the candidates and their respective campaigns, but to the quality of the students here at New Ridgemont High. Tom and Chloe’s commitment and your active, energetic participation have made Student Government at our school really mean something and that makes me very happy and proud of all of you.
A cheer rises from the audience. Shouts of “Call the winner!” ring out.
Friedman: [Puts his hands up for quiet.] I am delighted to announce that New Ridgemont High’s first Student Body President will be MISS CHLOE GOLD!
A huge roar. Chants of “Chloe! Chloe!” Noisy conversation.
Jaime Cohen [In the audience]: Aw, crap!
Valerie Saunders: You gonna’ keep hating on her, now that she’s won?
Jaime: Nah, I’m done with it. Anyway, she’s a really good cheerleader, and she’s been cool on the squad, so I was already partly defrosted.
Nicole Parker: Even though I voted for her, I have to say, I’m surprised. I thought she was toast after that debate.
Jaime: Funny, I didn’t vote for her, but I knew she’d won after that debate.
Jaime: Tom was too intellectual about it. All that political philosophy shit. She had spirit, and spirit always beats smarts.
Friedman: The vote was fifty-two percent for Miss Gold and forty-eight percent for Mr. Rosen. As I said, a close election. But enough of me. I give you Miss Chloe Gold, President of the New Ridgemont High Student Body!
Friedman steps away from the podium, clapping, and Chloe steps up. The students cheer wildly.
Chloe [Her eyes moist]: Thank you! I’ve been working so hard for this, and now that it’s happened, I don’t know what to say.
Boy: WE LOVE YOU CHLOE!!!
Chloe: I love you too. All of you. And I love this school. I don’t know if you’ll understand, but I feel like New Ridgemont High has given me a whole new life. I’ve never been so enthusiastic about school – never cared so much about anything before – and I have you and New Ridgemont High and Principal Friedman to thank for that. I hope that I can do right by you; repay you all for the incredible gift you’ve given to me.
And along those lines, I have an announcement to make. I’ve asked Tom to be my Vice President, and he’s accepted.
The audience goes wild. Someone blasts an air horn.
Several Students: TOOOOMMMMM!!!!
Lee Lindberg [To Laurie Pence and David Weber]: Ho-lee-shit! I wasn’t expecting that. Especially not after the debate. They really had the knives out.
Laurie: I don’t know, they go pretty far back. Even when they were hammering on each other, I wondered. There was something about it; almost like a dance.
David: That’s gonna’ be some team. The administration had better stay on their good side. I wouldn’t want to go up against those two.
Chloe: ‘Cause more than anything else, it was Tom who made my campaign what it was. His toughness. His constant pushing. It brought out the best in me, and I know he’ll continue to do so, as my Veep. So, let me turn things over to Tom, and thanks again!
Chloe waves to the crowd, which roars again, and steps back. Tom takes the podium.
Tom: First things first. Congratulations to Chloe, who ran a powerful, inspirational campaign. You earned this, Chloe, through your dedication, hard work, and unbreakable spirit.
I also want to thank all of my supporters. To be honest, when I started this campaign, I was ambivalent about Student Government. I just thought that someone needed to run; that we needed to have a real contest. But as things went on and I saw how involved everyone was getting, I started to feel differently about it; started to catch the election fever. And given Principal Friedman’s attitude – his support for the campaign and his fairness towards me, even with all my skepticism – many of my doubts and worries have been put to rest.
But not all of them. I remain skeptical. I guess it’s my nature. And given that both Chloe and Principal Friedman seem to value it – a revelation in itself, I should say – I’m going to stay that way. Keep my eye on everything and everyone for her, for him, and for all of you. Thank you, and I’m looking forward to getting started on the work at hand.
The crowd cheers again, and Tom steps back. Friedman returns to the podium.
Friedman: I am thrilled with Miss Gold’s choice, and I’m excited to work with these two fantastic young people. Our first order of business will be to figure out what the powers and scope of Student Government are going to be, and that decision will be made by all three of us, in collaboration, so, Tom, Chloe, expect to hear from me in the next week or so. We have a lot to discuss.
One last thing. This marks the three month anniversary of New Ridgemont High, and in celebration of that – and the election – I’m pleased to announce that we’ll be throwing a formal Celebration Ball on Friday night, in the school gym. There’ll be food and drinks, music, and dancing, as late into the night as you can go. So, wear your tuxes and party dresses and join me and the rest of your fellow students!
Boys: WOO HOO!!!!
Girls: PRINCIPAL FRIEDMANNNN!!!!!!!
Friedman: Okay, you’re all dismissed. I’ve canceled last period, so you can either hang out for an hour and wait for the school buses or take off. Have a great afternoon!
Friedman raises his hand in farewell, and turns to shake hands with Chloe and Tom. A last cheer goes up from the crowd as the three leave the stage, and the students, faculty and administrators file out of the auditorium. Mitch remains on the empty stage, packing up his equipment, smiling to himself.