Sunday, January 29, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

I confess it--I have always been a political junkie. Even as a child, I was interested in politicians and their campaigns. When I was seven, I became a Democrat. It happened like this: My grandmother--Bam Bam--was a local chairperson for Wendell Willkie during the 1940 campaign (remember, Willkie ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt; you don't remember? I do...sigh). It was Halloween, and I was parading around the playground at Whittier School in Berkeley, dressed in a charming black cat costume complete with long tail. I was carrying a small jack o'lantern, balancing it on my head between my black kitty ears, and pinned to my suit was a huge Willie campaign button. One of my schoolmates took umbrage to my politics, and grabbed my pumpkin and smashed it to bits. That's when I became a Democrat.

1940 Campaign Button
Not that I blamed Willkie--he was a nice enough man, and a good candidate, if a bit too liberal for the GOP establishment--he would probably have made a decent President. But Roosevelt was re-elected to an unprecedented third term, with 85% of the electoral votes, and Willkie served as a sort of unofficial ambassador to the world. He tried again in 1944, but the Republican establishment rejected him as their candidate; he died in 1944 of a heart attack.

I guess I wasn't that loyal a Democrat, because when I was thirteen I entered a contest sponsored by a children's magazine on "why X (your choice) would make a good President. I wrote a short essay on the sterling qualities of Harold Stassen. I found this in Wikipedia:  "Harold Stassen is perhaps the most famous and distinguished perennial presidential candidate in U.S. history, along with Ralph Nader. A one-time Governor of Minnesota and former President of the University of Pennsylvania, he ran for the Republican nomination for President twelve times between 1944 and 2000. While Stassen was considered a serious candidate in 1944, 1948 and 1952, his persistent attempts were increasingly met with derision and then amusement as the decades progressed. He also ran in 10 other races for lower offices." I must have been eavesdropping on adult conversations, reading about him in Life Magazine or The Saturday Evening Post, something like that, because I cannot imagine that I formed any opinion about Mr. Stassen out of thin air. Maybe it was because he was serving in the Navy, like my father.Anyhow, I entered this contest and promptly forgot about it. Imagine my surprise when an envelope showed up in the mailbox addressed to me and containing a $5 Postal Savings Stamp and the information that I had won the contest. To this day I have no idea what I said about Mr. Stassen, but it must have been persuasive.

Harold Stassen ca. 1948

Not that influential, though, because Mr. Stassen lost the Republican nomination to Thomas E. Dewey in 1948 and several times thereafter.

The next time I got seriously interested in the Presidential campaign was when Truman ran in 1948. I admired Mr. Truman a lot, and was rooting for him all the way. He was running against the aforementioned Thomas E. Dewey, and was supposed to lose handily. Election night, I was stationed at the radio in my bedroom at Aunt Quail's house, listening to the returns. Upstairs, Bam Bam and Aunt Nina (who lived next door) were playing Canasta. It was my job to race up the stairs and holler "Bam Bam" (Truman ahead) or "Aunt Nina" (Dewey ahead) according to the results.

I actually met Mr Dewey, when I was in college in New York. I was surprised to find him short and with shifty eyes. At that time, Mr. Dewey had more official protection than the President of the United States. He needed it because he had been a feisty and effective District Attorney in New York City, and many criminals were Out to Get Him. At the time I met him, he was Governor of New York State. And I attributed those shifty eyes to the fact that he needed to be watchful at all times, to avoid being gotten by all those who were Out to Get Him.

When I was 18, I went to a Young Democrats conference. There I met such fascinating folks as Warren G. Magnusson, Senator from Washington, and Hubert H. Humphrey, Senator from Minnesota. Humphrey was the keynote speaker, and you could have heard a pin drop the entire time he was speaking--over an hour. This to a hall full of teenagers. Afterwards, I bet him a nickel he would be President someday. Unfortunately, I had to pay up, which I did, when one of his aides (a fellow I was in college with years before) came to the UW on a visit and I gave him the task of conveying the nickel..

I was Editor of my college newspaper when Eisenhower ran against Stevenson. I was for Stevenson, of course, and tried to promote him as much as possible--though I had to balance the political material equally for both parties. My grandfather--Susan's husband--summed up his opinion of the two candidates thusly, though he never said how he voted: "I worry that Stevenson will take too much time deliberating over decisions...on the other hand, I served under Eisenhower."

When I finally became old enough to vote (you had to be 21 back then), it was my pleasure to vote for John F. Kennedy. I though he was really brave when he took the blame for the Bay of Pigs, and I watched him on the black and white TV as her demanded the Russians keep their missiles out of Cuba. It was indeed a Black Day when he was shot.

I admired Lyndon Johnson's domestic policies, and rejoiced when the Civil Rights legislation passed into law, but I did not care for the Viet Nam War and its unsavory consequences. What is it about politicians that they think Unnecessary War is a Good Thing? 

I was in graduate school most of the time Nixon was President, and actually missed Watergate altogether, being busy with books and classes and papers to write and all. I did catch up eventually. I did pay attention to the resignation of Spiro Agnew and the appointment of Gerald Ford, but only marginally. I was in Greece when Nixon resigned, and got up at two in the morning to hear him do it.

I was in Cambridge, England, in 1976. I voted for Jimmy Carter by absentee ballot. My Washington Voter's Pamphlet that accompanied the ballot was the most interesting I had even seen. The Owl Party, started for fun by Red Kelley, a local jazz musician, had filed a candidate for many state offices. This was a tongue-in-cheek party, conceived with great humor and insight by a bunch of madcap folks who made what might have been a ho-hum election quite amusing. The Land Commissioner, for instance, promised "to fearlessly commission the land;" and vowed to make the Japanese take a bottle of Noweco Wine (justly condemned by ell who tasted it) with every log they bought from the state. For Secretary of State, a lady named Fast Lucy Griswold  had filed with the claim that she was the only candidate for Secretary who actually knew how to take shorthand. Needless to say, our British friends who would go on to elect Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister, were slightly taken aback and even dumbfounded to find the Voter's Pamphlet we shared with them was actually an Official Document. Here is a link to an article about the Owl Party:

I won't say anything about the Reagan Years, lest I need more protection than Dewey. Bush 41 was less bad than I feared, Willie Horton and the Politics of Destruction notwithstanding.The Clinton years were kind of fascinating, in their way--what with the Scandal and the Impeachment, and The Contract on America and was a good lesson in Civics, after all--and a good lesson in why we need to teach Civics in our schools.

And I try, as much as possible, to forget that we had a 43rd President. the 41st was more than enough of that family for me. The damage 43 did will not be amended soon, more's the pity.

I was thrilled when Obama became President, because I hoped (in vain, as it turned out) that racism was finally going away in America. When anyone wondered how I could vote for a black man, I would tell them I was voting for the white half. Or the Irish candidate--where did that apostrophe go? It has been rather frustrating watching him trying to govern when the opposition will hardly acknowledge his existence, let alone his authority. One hopes that the upcoming election will change all that--in his favor, I hasten to add. He has done a good job against incredible odds, getting little credit for his accomplishments..

This political year I have been amused and horrified at the politics going on. Actually it isn't very funny when one party has candidates that range from super-conservative ex-senator to disgraced former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to Vulture Capitalist businessman, and ex-Pizza businessman and mid-west congresswoman selling books. Not to mention an 11th-century Libertarian. And the other party is busy shooting itself in the foot, as far as I can tell, being just as vocal in their disparaging of their current Presidential office holder as their opponents are. We do live in interesting times.

Until Next time--Nan

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