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