Header Image: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.
My first political act came in 1952. I was ten. I sat on a city curb waiting for the appearance of the famous man who would soon be running for president. In my right hand I clutched a pennant that proclaimed “I Like Ike.”
And I did. Who wouldn’t like the avuncular, smiling war hero who had defeated the mighty German army? My parents were conservative Republicans. And, really, they didn’t have much of a choice. All their friends were Republican. My dad’s boss was Republican, which alone would have settled the issue for us. Everyone knows your political affiliation in a small town, and only a fool would endorse what his boss considered the “wrong” party.
My father, always the storyteller, filled my young ears with spooky images of Democrats. He told me Franklin Roosevelt allowed the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor to happen so the US would have to enter the war. Dad rejected Roosevelt’s “socialistic” economic policies. As poorly as my father regarded FDR, he had a much lower opinion of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was much too outspoken for a woman, and her embrace of political outcasts made him queasy.
While I considered myself a Republican until I went to college, it didn’t take long for the GOP to lose my vote. In my first week on campus, my dormitory fellows and I watched Richard Nixon and John Kennedy debate on television. To my eyes, Richard Nixon looked shifty and mired in the past. JFK seemed young, vigorous and sophisticated.
In that debate, Kennedy suggested the Republicans had allowed the Soviet Union to get ahead of the US in missile design. That charge came up weeks later during the beauty pageant to pick Miss Grinnell, our candidate in the Miss America contest. A pretty blonde in a swimsuit was asked her opinion of “the missile gap.” “This country could not possibly be behind,” she said, adding “And I’m sure we’ll catch up real soon.”
By the time I left college, I knew my core values defined me as a progressive, somewhere to the left of the Democratic party mainstream. And then Vietnam happened. Night after night, I shook with rage as spokesmen for Lyndon Johnson’s government went before television cameras to lie about the war. For me, the Vietnamese war was a radicalizing event that lasted eleven years.
I haven’t changed my basic convictions much in the decades since the US fled Vietnam in panic. I was ambivalent about the first Gulf War but unequivocally hated the second. And yet the passing years have made me relatively humble. I no longer burn with self righteous conviction on any issue. I describe my political affiliation now as “progressive,” whatever that means. The Democratic Party lost my heart long ago by neglecting common folks, choosing instead to cater to the wealthy, as if the other party weren’t already shamelessly sucking up to the most privileged sector of this society. I vote for Democrats because they are the least objectionable of the alternatives I find on ballots. I dream of a leader who would seriously address social and economic injustice. I yearn for a leader who will actually reverse the abuse we continue to heap on our environment. But I’m not holding my breath.
Oddly enough, I have had a dream featuring almost every president to hold office in my lifetime. In my Clinton dream I told him how deeply he had disappointed me. In a recent dream, a president chased me through a spooky Victorian mansion, shooting at me with a pistol. I wasn’t concerned, though. I remember thinking, “I’m good. That’s only George Bush trying to kill me!” My favorite presidential dream featured a conversation I had with Jimmy Carter. As we spoke, Carter’s face sort of melted, and right before my eyes he morphed into Eleanor Roosevelt. I remember thinking, “Gee, Dad was right all along. Jimmy Carter is just Eleanor Roosevelt come back to haunt him again!”
What has your political journey been?