This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
There's a lot to be learned from hermaphrodite frogs. After scientists discovered genital abnormalities in frogs exposed to a common agricultural herbicide, Atrazine, the chemical was banned in several countries. It wasn't banned in defense of amphibian masculinity, though. Frogs are what is known in ecology as an "indicator species," meaning that they're the first to show signs of, or indicate, problems in their environments. The croakers were representatives of their ecosystem, so when they were deprived of their doodleberries, the contamination had evidently gone too far.
The concept of an indicator species, however, isn't unique to the emasculated amphibians. In the elaborate ecosystem that is humanity, we too have indicator species: certain groups of people speak volumes about their communities. While on the quest to decipher the American temperament, one must look to those indicators.
But who are they? Who is the frog of humankind? Politicians. Because, when you think about it, it's their job to represent others. Every day they adopt, project and defend the ideals of the citizens who elected them into office. In the spirit of democracy, representative bodies of government should morph into a reflection of their electorate.
The Atrazine-infected marshes are to America as the effeminate frogs are to our elected officials. The ponds were polluted and the frogs showed it. So if America's character is flawed, politicians will be red flags.
So let's be frank: People vote for people who are like themselves. Presidents, specifically, are in the spotlight here. Many voters want them to be the centerpiece of the collective American image, a true embodiment of values and spirit. It doesn't cut it anymore just to be the leader of America. The president has to be America.
That's why candidates visit schools and small towns and local restaurants. That's why President Obama hosted a public web chat on Google+. That's why the religious identities of office-seekers are so often called into question. That's why Sarah Palin so desperately tried to depict herself as Joe Six Pack. And that's why Americans tend to support candidates with dangerously inflated egos.
Intriguingly, egocentric candidates are consistently seen as fit to govern to U.S. of A. Think of Bill Clinton, who assumed he could get away with and talk himself out of anything (enter Monica Lewinsky). Think of George Bush, who was so madly, passionately infatuated with his own gut instinct that he initiated the long and bloody war in Iraq. Think of Barack Obama, who can electrify a crowd with his rhetoric but can't seem to fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo. Think of the presidential hopefuls like Mitt Romney, who boasts non-stop of his business experience, and Newt Gingrich, who is the very image of conceit, constantly equating himself to Ronald Reagan and calling himself things like the "definer of civilization."
You may be thinking that it's natural for these people to display egregious levels of hubris. That's true. Running for office does take serious gall. But don't forget that they are the frogs, they are the indicators. Much like the androgyny of the Atrazine-affected amphibians, the traits that spring up in elected officials are disturbing because they are revealing. These politicians are us. They are the symbols of America, the essence of our societal disposition. And they are polluted by egocentrism. We are polluted by egocentrism.