I’m posting early this week, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday mornings. I’ll be back on my regular weekly Wednesday schedule on November 16.
What’s your political story?
On the eve of what may be a revolutionary change in the way my government works, I wanted to take a step back and examine my political coming-of-age. How is it I hold the political beliefs I do? And what, exactly, are those political beliefs?
Besides, I’ll do anything to divert my attention at the moment.[NOTE: There are different definitions of “political.” I’m using it to refer to government, particularly the executive branch.]
I feel as if the floor on which I’ve stood the past fifty years is about to fall away. Knowing there is nothing I can do about it, I choose to look elsewhere. I’m going to look back. Back to a time when I believed my government was truly “Of the people, for the people, and by the people.”
Where to start?
My first political memory is of the second inauguration of Dwight David Eisenhower. It’s a vague memory and, one that is oddly mingled with me skipping home from school. The two memories meet when I arrive home to find my grandmother watching it on the TV. My grandmother liked Ike. Everyone seemed to like Ike, so I liked Ike.
All was well with the world when I was eight years old. I learned a President is someone I could like.
My next political memory has me in front of the TV once again, watching the very first televised presidential debate. Known more today as a win by the candidate who allowed the face makeup, the race between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon was the first where I understood one needed to pick a side. My mother worked for the UAW, a large and influential labor union that supported Kennedy. I supported Kennedy. He was also easy to like.
Our political identity is often tied to that of our parents, just as religion is. I have a memory of a talk Woody used to give about stuttering. The question always came up about the genetic influence, of which there is some evidence. It’s just that no one knows exactly what that influence is. Woody would agree that stuttering does run in families. “But then,” he’d always add, “so does religion.”
It’s true of politics too. At least it used to be. The millennials (that generation born spanning the year 2000, generally from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) seem to have a mind of their own, which is one of the privileges of a democracy. Anyway, back to my political history.
TV and politics banded together in my memory again on January 20 as, home from school due to a massive snow storm on the east coast, I watched JFK challenge us all to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
I was smitten. I was hooked. For the next three years and on into high school I thought I lived in the greatest country in the world. My government, particularly my president, could accomplish great things.
- I watched Kennedy’s press conference in October, 1962 when he challenged Russia to back down. And won.
- I watched him at countless press conferences where he always seemed to leave the reporters laughing.
- I watched him on TV standing at the Berlin Wall, proclaiming himself a jelly doughnut. Ich bin Ein Berliner, he declared — the added article did him in. But that was OK; everyone knew he meant “I am a Berliner,” in the way that we all proclaimed “Je suis Charlie” after the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, the French weekly, last year.
And I watched his three-day funeral a year later.
Camelot, as those few years quickly came to be known, was followed by more assassinations, urban riots, an unending war in a land I’d otherwise have never heard of, and the continued threat of nuclear devastation. But we also got The Great Society with Head Start for the kids, food stamps for the poor, and Medicare for the old.
Government, in my world, meant “Of the people, by the people, and for the people.” These were my coming of age events.
Though LBJ quickly lost his credibility because of Vietnam, the sheer volume of change — improvement as I saw it — was impressive and I developed during those years a deep appreciation for the power of government. My government cared about her people. We the People was alive and well.
In 1970, the principle, Of the People, By the People, For the People was alive and well in my world. [click to tweet]
Tomorrow: Part II
Interesting post, Janet. I look forward to the next part.
I don’t remember a president before JFK, and mostly I remember his assassination. I was in second grade in Dallas.
I’m certain I’ve been influenced growing up in a liberal leaning family. My husband’s family was not though, and he and his brother both vote Democrat. He and I met in 9th grade though, so there is that. 😉
Yes, my kids grew up in a two-party household too. And I’m very proud of where they both choose to stand. Thanks for weighing in, Merril.
Thanks for the shout-out Janet. So happy to inspire this post, and you are welcome to the historic Ike button image.
I don’t know if it’s a sign of THE age or MY age, but I’m becoming cynical enough to wonder if things are really worse today or perhaps a combination of the ability to dig deep immediately with online research and mass media has made it seem so. Corruption and scandals have always been with us, from earliest times.
Even so, I remain optimistic that eventually good has to win out or life as we know it will end.
I look forward to Part II.
Yes indeed, Sharon. Political campaigns have never been a time to show how great America is. There are some really horrendous stories if you go back far enough. Our system, though, is designed for slow progress, slow change. Lumbering, some call it. But that is democracy; no one ever claimed it was an efficient system; just an effective one. But the changes that have brought us where we now are have been going on slowly for nearly forty years.
My jury is also still out on just how helpful it’s been in disseminating information. My bias is that it’s been a positive influence, overall, all things considered. But I’m not wedded to that position quite yet.
Interesting post, Janet and one I easily relate to. I remember those”I Like Ike” buttons very well. It all seemed so simple back then but I agree with Sharon that the times are not necessarily worse. We just know more -TMI–about the intimate details of each candidate. JFK was idolized and we know the rest of that story. All rules have been broken in this most divisive election cycle. May our democracy, as flawed as it is, continue to be our hope and strength.
How To Stay Informed in This Age of Fake News – Janet Givens
[…] the eve of last year’s presidential election, my blog went a bit off goal with a three-part Examining My Political Story, ending just before last Christmas with The Culture of Philanthropy. I wanted to address the […]