Monday, January 22, 2007

Swimming Upstream: The Maxwell Maxwell Story

Ordinarily, we like to look at the races race-by-race, but the Presidential race is kinda unique, the most important and, in this year's unique circumstance, the two candidates are largely incomparable. One is offering a largely philosophical vision, the other a practical one. It's the former with which we're concerning ourselves, initially. Look for the Friedrich article tomorrow.

(Note: we've tried unsuccessfully to set up an interview with Maxwell. We will be meeting with him shortly, but he is not responsible for the lack of a meeting.)

In the beginning, Maxwell was a drunken joke candidate. But, as the narrative goes, he saw he was the only non-Jeff candidate running, and quickly decided to run seriously. This shift is admirable. In that respect, Maxwell is setting an example for disaffected students. You have a choice: sit outside and complain, or get your hands dirty and get involved. He chose the latter.

It was readily apparent that Maxwell knew next to nothing about the AMS. His first debate was an embarrassment of giggles. But a quick glance at his website is proof that he's done some research. He does rightly point out that the AMS accepted the tuition increase in 2005, that voter turnout is low, and that the 40k reno for Council Chambers might have been a bit of a waste.

But look more closely, and there are some very significant logical gaps. For instance, he mentions that the AMS spends over 450 of your dollars in a year. Thing is, there isn't much he can do about that, unless he himself passes a referendum. Really, he can't. The student fees that actually go to the AMS total roughly $33.50. That ain't much. He also mentions that his opponent has years of experience in the rhetoric of political campaigning. Friedrich has been involved in the AMS for all of 18 months. It's hard to really characterize him as the ultimate insider.

Of all his promises (lower tuition, more student housing, and a new student union), there's actually one that's within his power as President, or at least within the power of the AMS to directly affect. And that's cheaper beer. Yes, the AMS could charge less for beer. However, to do so comes at cost. And Maxwell hasn't suggested what he'd cut to do so. He can reduce the renovation budget, but he'd better hope that students don't ask for renovations. Would he cut services? Executive salaries? (Right now they make around $6/hour.) Cut student jobs from AMS businesses? We're not positive.

Maxwell's big weakness is that he identifies several problems, and has a broad solution, but the remedy is not rationally connected to the symptoms. His solution is a "new student society,", to problems which include wasteful renos (the Council Chambers), crappy renos (conversation pit), and bad tuition policy (2005). Problem is, the solutions to these are engaging students, better designers, and a less obsolete tuition policy, respectively. His argument also fails to recognize that the AMS has put itself in a position where these things matter, and they matter to students. That has to count for something.

The major strength of Maxwell's campaign is he's highlighting the weakness of the AMS in two areas. The first is communication. At the time of his interview with the Knoll, he was raging about the University's withholding e-mail addresses (he must read this blog). The University has since agreed to work with the AMS to get them. Second, he's highlighted the AMS' weakness in building student life. As he rightly points out, it wouldn't take much to throw some good parties, without getting caught up in the bureaucracy of the student union.

And it's through this lens that we ought to examine the Maxwell candidacy. Yes, his ideas aren't fully fleshed out. But the feelings behind them ought not to be discounted as a result. They're valuable, and really should be an important part of the discourse. As well, it's a testament to the weakness of the AMS if they can't find a way to use his skills and talents. He clearly has something to offer, if the AMS is willing to listen.