Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Political History

One of the recent Questions of the Day at Shakesville was “What’s your first memory of a political campaign?” or something in that vein. Mine was in 1956 when my older sister and brother taught me “Whistle while you work! Stevenson’s a jerk!” I was four and I had no idea what it meant. Then when I was eight my Cub Scout troop was recruited to canvass for Richard Nixon’s run in 1960 against John F. Kennedy. All of my Catholic friends were Kennedy supporters, so I came to the logical conclusion that Catholics were Democrats. I dutifully went along with my troop, and I remember being in a political parade down Louisiana Avenue in late October 1960 in Perrysburg. There was a big cardboard “X” plastered on my bike basket and I was in a row of riders that spelled out N-I-X-O-N. It would be another ten years or so before I found out that my parents, going against their friends and long family upbringing, voted for JFK in 1960.

I don’t need to bore you with my entire political-junkie life story. Suffice it to say that I have followed politics more as an observer than a participant, even though I have worked on campaigns, national and local, since I was old enough to understand the difference between the political parties and the issues that matter to me both as a person and as a citizen. My first crush, so to speak, was Bobby Kennedy, and in many ways I have never really gotten over it. I have not been as excited or energized about a candidate since then, although it’s fair to say that like all teenage crushes, the intensity is never the same as the first time. And now, forty years later, I find that my ardor has mellowed and tempered with age and experience. No candidate is perfect; they will disappoint you and show their flaws, and at some point you will seriously ponder what it was you saw in them that attracted you in the first place. But unlike the mercurial passions of youth, you know that compromise, tolerance, and forgiveness are a part of every relationship, even if it’s with someone who doesn’t know you exist and only appealed to you for their attention because they needed your vote. As long as you realize that, you can put it in perspective: you’re only choosing the leader of the free world, not your prom date.

Every candidate says that “this election is the most important in our nation’s history.” Well, of course they’re going to say that; otherwise, why should we pay attention to them? But in truth, this election of 2008 is very important, and not just for the prospect of either electing the first black man to be president or the first woman to be vice president. This election comes front-loaded with expectations above and beyond the events that will occur after January 20, 2009. And while there is no doubt that the next few years are going to be difficult in many ways, not the least of which will be recovering from the last eight, they will be anticipated as being important because of what this election brings with it. It wasn’t always so. The election of 1980 was not foreseen as momentous; most of the conventional wisdom said that Jimmy Carter would be re-elected over Ronald Reagan and the 1980’s would go on as before. No one really saw the tectonic shift in the Republican Party coming, either, at the hands of the evangelical Christians. Now, half my lifetime later, we are seeing what a lot of people consider to be the end of the aftershocks of that election, and the beginning tremors of another. That may easily be; only history will tell. But I have the feeling that no matter what happens tonight, this election really is one of the most important in our history. I can’t help but feel a little more than amazed that I’ve been a participant and observer.

So, if you haven’t already, participate in history and vote.