The media's show-me-your-papers circus--demanding Obama's birth certificate and Romney's tax returns--disgusted me, since all these journalists were so clearly just pandering for attention. Attention I was missing out on. I clearly needed to launch my own demand for papers. I would write about it in my column, yell about it on cable news shows and chant about it at rallies. I'd then parlay my fame into hosting my own talk show. I would choose which presidential candidate to target on the basis of whether MSNBC or Fox News had a time slot in ratings trouble.
Shockingly, there are still a lot of documents that haven't been demanded from either campaign. Where is the paper showing that Paul Ryan is qualified to teach P90X fitness classes to his fellow Congressmen? When was the last time President Obama, who has admitted to doing cocaine as a teenager, had a urine test? And I need to see all of Mitt Romney's skin-care and hair-care receipts so I can try to look as handsome as he is.
Unsure which of these would get me the most attention, I contacted Mark McKinnon, who was a senior media adviser to the George W. Bush and John McCain campaigns. He told me to drop the drug-test demand since it's too offensive and would be ignored. He suggested asking a candidate for his kindergarten report card, which seemed like a good idea. Romney's campaign is about his ability to get people working; his kindergarten grades will tell us if he really does play well with others. "I can see Jon Stewart doing jokes about this," McKinnon e-mailed me. But then I asked him if he would advise the campaign to release the kindergarten records. "My advice to campaigns: Get it all out," he said. "America wants to know." If Romney immediately coughed up reports of unwillingness to share toys, I wouldn't be able to complain about his refusal all over TV.
Clearly I needed to practice my technique on a lower-profile politician, preferably one who would return my call within a business day. So I left a message with Brian Schweitzer, the Democratic governor of Montana. Unfortunately, the governor called a half hour earlier than scheduled, and I was visiting my mother in New Jersey, so she answered the phone.
"This is Brian Schweitzer," he said. "Do you know who I am?"
"No," said my mom.
"I'm a stalker of his. And he's not going to be happy to hear from me," the governor said.
"Joel," my mom said, handing me the phone, "there's a man on the phone. He says he's a stalker of yours." My mom is what the Department of Homeland Security would call a soft target.
I explained that I was on a show-me-your-papers crusade. He sighed. "It's starting to be the silly season. Meanwhile, I can't get anybody to explain to me why we're in Afghanistan." I'm pretty sure the silly season started a tiny bit earlier, when the governor of Montana prank-called my mom.
I asked the governor what he would do if I asked to see his kindergarten report card. "I'd probably tell you to go to hell," he said. How about his income taxes from before he was governor? "I'd tell you to go to hell," he said. It turns out his answer to almost all of my demands was "Go to hell," though every so often I lucked upon "It's none of your damn business."