Cue the music, dim the lights, turn on the applause sign -- no, it's not the beginning of a movie or a Broadway play, although some would say it's definitely "theater" in the broadest terms. It's the season when the general election takes center stage and politicians "shine," or, not so much.

While the political parties are sharpening their tools for the battle for the hearts and minds of American voters, later in the year both groups will assemble for conventions where they will struggle, argue, pontificate and, some would say, obfuscate the party platforms.

Highly regarded by some, the party platforms are generally unknown to most voters. For some reason, the stands taken by the parties lose their luster for those of us generally considered the "common folk."

I took a look at the Democratic and Republican Party platforms from 2008, the last year they were available. They write these platforms during the conventions, and that may be one of the problems. In all of the hoopla about the candidates, the positions that the respective parties hold dear and want to trumpet to the masses are lost in the din.

Somehow, both parties need to make their platforms more widely available and known to all of us. The sad truth is that we are accustomed to the sound bites, the video snippets that we receive, and reading lengthy treatises about issues makes our eyes glaze over even if we don't lose consciousness.

We just don't have the intestinal fortitude to read through what seems more platitude, more political posturing than platform for either party.

Instead of drilling a party platform home in more and more verbiage, I propose both parties must take Robert Fulghum's essay not only to heart but also make that the party platform for both parties.

Who is Robert Fulghum, you ask? You know him, but you don't realize you do. At least you and I are very familiar with one of the essays in his book: "All I Really Need to Know." You can finish it: "I Learned in Kindergarten."

This probably sounds trite and is an oversimplification, but maybe that's what we need. Everyone complicates the issues with TMI that isn't relevant to people's lives.

For instance, we know we have a housing crisis; we know mortgage defaults continue to pile up; we know we arrived here because of the greed, possibly the stupidity and most assuredly the shortsightedness, of many others.

If we had consulted Fulghum's essay and followed the advice there, this crisis could have been averted. To wit: "Play fair. ... Don't take things that aren't yours." And really important in light of the mortgage meltdown: "Clean up your own mess."

Instead, we are cleaning up the mess with bailouts, foreclosures and refinancing, among other things. It's not working so well for homeowners or some lending institutions either. Those people struggling to keep from losing their homes know some of the banks didn't play fair, but individuals rather than institutions will be cleaning up the mess.

The bottom line is that parties need to send a clear message to voters with a platform that doesn't take an hour to read and much more time to digest. Then, the candidates who are running for office must make sure they follow their own party's platform and reread Fulghum's essay.

Some thoughts that resonate from that essay: "Live a balanced life." How many of us even consider that important as we scurry from place to place, event to event, home to job and back again?

Another truism: "Be aware of wonder." How many of us recognize the miracles in our lives that unfold each day? Some might call them serendipitous, but I prefer to call them miracles.

Fulghum's last piece of advice: "And it is still true, no matter how old you are -- when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together."

The writer is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.