Dear presidential candidates:
Yesterday morning, my 18-year-old son came up with a brilliant proposal for campaign reform. He and I spent much of our day together elaborating its details; and although the concept is still flawed and incomplete, we nonetheless believe that you should consider its advantages to both your development as sentient human beings and your credibility with the voters.
My son's proposal is that every candidate for president should spend one month working and living in an environment that is nothing like anywhere he or she has lived before. The goal is to introduce each of you to a segment of humanity that you have overlooked or derided and to put you into the uncomfortable position of (1) not being great at your job, (2) being around people with a different skill set, and (3) finding out what it's like to live with very little money and very few resources.
To that end, my son and I have come up with suggested destinations for several of the candidates.
Donald Trump. You will spend the month in Mississippi working as a farm laborer and living in housing for migrant workers. Other people will be telling you what to do, and you will do it. Also, you will get blisters and a sunburn and be tired and dirty all the time. Let us know if the wages are too high.
Bernie Sanders. You will spend the month working as a waiter at a Denny's in a Phoenix strip mall. Your job is to stop hollering at people and to bring them more coffee. If they order bacon, let them. Your feet will hurt, but you will still have to smile.
Ted Cruz. Much as I dislike you, I am inviting you to my own hometown in rural central Maine. You will get a series of small seasonal jobs: chainsawing in the woods, driving the plow truck in snowstorms, cutting tips for Christmas wreaths, working on cars, etc., etc. You will live in a trailer and have trouble keeping warm. So if you want to eat or buy heating oil, you'll have to figure out how to get someone to hire you. That requires civility, by the way.
Carly Fiorina. You will spend the month living in a refugee enclave in a small working-class city--say, Manchester, New Hampshire. No one around you will speak your language or share any of your customs. You will have to figure out how to communicate with them as you work the nightshift at the local convenience store.
Mike Huckabee. You will spend the month living in a Bronx shelter and working for a social-service organization focusing on homeless youth. Let us know later if paying you a pittance to roam the streets in search of terrified kids who need dinner and some blankets was a pointless waste of government dollars.
Hillary Clinton. You will spend the month as a stay-at-home housewife in a working-class neighborhood in the midwest--say, somewhere outside of Toledo. You will be alone all day, without control of your checkbook and responsible for nothing beyond cleaning the house and preparing budget meals. The TV will be permanently set to soap operas. What will it be like to be completely powerless?
Chris Christie. You will spend the month on a reservation, perhaps in South Dakota. Probably you won't be able to find a job, so you'll just have to hang out in your crumbling government-issue housing. But at least you'll have plenty of time to think about what it's like to be crushed and forgotten.
Of course, some candidates require more basic interventions. Jeb Bush needs to enter the Witness Protection Program and learn what it feels like not to be a Bush. Ben Carson needs to enroll in any accredited 9th-grade college-prep program. And there are some overlaps. I feel that Marco Rubio and Rand Paul would both benefit from the Clinton or Huckabee treatments. Perhaps they could try out equivalent programs in desert Nevada and urban Fresno. Marco Rubio as powerless housewife has much potential. And it is always a good idea to make Rand Paul wallow in some "unnecessary" government spending.
Each candidate will receive a cheap cell phone loaded with a handful of minutes. If you want to use the Internet, you'll have to find a public library computer. (Does your community have a library? Is this an important resource for the working poor? Also, are libraries warm and do they have bathrooms? It would be a shame if you couldn't find a bathroom.) You will not be giving any press conferences. If you find yourself needing health care, feel free to stand in line at the emergency room. But I'm sure you'll be fine. People who work in dangerous jobs in stressful and unhealthy environments never need health care.
You owe it to the American people to show them you're tough enough to do the jobs they're already doing themselves. I look forward to the reality show.