My Political Journey

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?

58 thoughts on “My Political Journey”

  1. Good morning. If you want to know where I am at now on my political journey, go to democracynow.org and listen to the broadcast from yesterday featuring Noam Chomsky. We are being lied to by the people in power in our country and Chomsky is one of the best ones at uncovering those lies.

    I was an activist opposed to the Vietnam war. I couldn’t understand how we could fight such a terrible war. I knew that our country needed to change to bring an end to fighting wars like Vietnam. We didn’t change. The failure to change left me feeling very alienated. I hope that we are finally reaching a point in this country where important changes can be made and we can move away from the terrible path that we have been following.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am the child of Minnesota farmers. My paternal grandfather was one of the founding members of the DFL party in Rock County. New Deal Democrats all. It is interesting to be a member of two maligned groups here in ND- Democrats and a state employees. The socialist leaning Non-Partisan League was a very interesting political party in ND in the 30’s and left us the State Mill and the State Bank, both of which are sacred cash cows even for the Republicans here,.I am sorry to say that our county Democrats a real bunch of losers. I miss Minnesota democrats. Husband’s family are Republicans. We were both drawn to the NDP (social democrats) when we lived in Canada.

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  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Big question Steve, I could write pages on this one, but never fear! I will not do that.

    My parents were closet Democrats in a Republican town. However, they objected to the way Mom’s father and his brother approached all things political–with a crazed obsession for Republican politics that Grandpa and Uncle Bob ranted about at any opportunity. Another uncle, also our local history teacher, also echoed these views without any editing in the classroom. Mom and Dad decided that they would not try to influence their children to adopt any favored party. I discovered I was a Democrat when I had to give a speech in Social Studies about some political topic. The Republican boys booed me, and I started to cry. I began to believed all Republicans were crazy undesirables with really bad behavior.

    Republican Uncle Jim took me for my first vote in 1972. He knew I would vote for McGovern and harassed me during the time it took to complete the ballot saying that our votes would cancel each other. I maintained my position. I do believe such voting harassment is illegal. After Grandpa had a stroke when Jimmy Carter was elected, I fully rejected any Republican thought, although I did vote for Iowa Governor Robert Ray who seemed to be the one bright light I could see in that party.

    I remain a Proud Liberal who votes for people who don’t seem bound and determine to engage us in unnecessary wars and foolhardy schemes. I no longer consider myself to belong to a political party. No one owns my vote but me. And Donald Trump appears to be a dangerous choice to make.

    I still suspect that most Conservatives are, well, unbalanced.

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    1. Renee, I sometimes have felt that children often reject their parents’ politics. In a two-party system, that means flipping from Democrat to Republican or vice versa. But your experience is not rare. When kids adopt their parents’ politics, I often feel that someone has done a good job of parenting.

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  4. A familiar tale after the beginning. As urban, union households during the depression, both my parents were New Deal/Roosevelt dems until Reagan came along. Then they became closet Tea Party “Libertarians.” Otherwise, Steve’s telling my story.

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    1. Hi Ken. My parents were lifelong Republicans, although my mom wobbled a bit when she feared I would be drafted and sent to Vietnam. My folks were delighted when Reagan came into power. They were sure he would deliver fiscal leadership that would be good for them, as they were beginning to feel wealthy. They were shocked when Reagan’s policies favored people far richer than they were.

      My dad died during the attempt to impeach Bill Clinton for his Monica lies. By that time Dad hated the party he’d supported all his life, although he couldn’t see anything good about Democrats.

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  5. No political journey for me, apart from enjoying grousing, reveling in tales like Three Days of the Condor, Brotherhood of the Rose, etc., and, generally, distrusting politicians. Politically speaking, I’m a child of Watergate.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Between my junior/senior year of high school, I took American History during summer school (I wanted to take something else my senior year so wanted this out of the way). The teacher was absolutely obsessed with Watergate and we ended up watching the hearings for almost 2 weeks of the 6-week class!

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        1. Well, after years of being pestered by a friend of mine that’s a casting agent in town that I should be doing on-camera/print work, I sent a headshot to a modeling agency. I got a call last Friday that they wanted to take me on. So, I’m going over there this afternoon to sign the paperwork. I’m about to become a male model. (My brothers would say, “Well, ~someone’s~ got to be the ‘before’ picture.)

          Liked by 7 people

  6. I started early. My father defended a conscientious objector way before it was a popular stance and it lead to a letter-writing campaign; I remember stuffing envelopes when I was in 5th grade. Then a couple of years later he was the campaign manager for a young man taking a run at State Senate. I got out of school on election day – spent the day encouraging people to get out an vote in the various districts. I also skipped school more than once to picket and protest the Vietnam War; my parents approved all of this.

    Since we live in a two-party world, I identify as a democrat. If a multi-party system was really viable here, I would be left of democrat.

    Unfortunately all my earlier enthusiasm for the mechanics of politics has been burned away by the cynicism and corruption of how it seems to work these days. If I didn’t have a mute button, I wouldn’t even turn the tv on during an election cycle!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I struggle, trying not to be cynical. But it is hard. For me, a nasty turning point was the Supreme Court decision that threw the doors wide open for money to buy votes. I think the case is known as “Citizens United.” I’m convinced it is one of the worst decisions in US history, ranking close to the Dred Scott case. One of my deepest convictions is that our society has been distorted grotesquely by granting so much power to the ability of wealth to have its way. (But then, given my finances, it isn’t very original of me to fear the influence of wealth!)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I grew up in a Republican family in a small conservative town. My journey followed my parents until college – the later years of the Vietnam War and Watergate – when I became more and more disillusioned. The break came during the Reagan years and the increasingly anti-women stance of the Conservatives. I am now staunchly a social democrat. I agree with Steve completely about “Citizens United” – horrible decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the part about the dreams, Steve. I too have dreamed I talked to presidents, but now the only one I can remember, vaguely, is Obama.

    My parents were usually conservative – my mom broke ranks and voted for Jack Kennedy, but otherwise she went along with Dad. After seeing more of the world when I got up and out, I couldn’t understand how such kind, intelligent people could continue to vote Republican, and my dad said he got more conservative the older he got! I thought the values my sister and I were raised with were found with the Democrats, though I am hesitant to belong to any party, as I’ve seen enough shenanigans all around. Now I just vote my conscience.

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  9. One of the tragedies of recent history is that moderate Republicans have mostly disappeared. Minnesota has a history of producing thoughtful, balanced Republican leaders. I love the legacy of such leaders as Elmer Anderson, Al Quie, Dave Durenberger and even Arne Carlson. They were (are) public spirited men who made important contributions to the state. To my eyes, it seems that their party has drifted so far to the right that such men would have no chance of being nominated by their party again.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. When I was in fifth grade (in Connecticut), it was the year of the Nixon-Kennedy election. Our teacher had us “vote”. It must not have been secret ballot because somehow I know that one other person and I were the only Kennedy votes. That was how I learned that, politically, we were outliers in our town (because, of course, we were all parroting what we had heard at home).
    My parents came from Republican stock but somehow veered Democrat after they left home. I wish I had asked them how they made THEIR journey.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I don’t know… we’re not supposed to discuss politics. My family never did.
    I remember sitting at the dinner table one night, I was probably 18 or 20. There was a news report something about ‘The gays being upset they were not being treated fairly’.
    My dad made some comment. I said something else. And the room froze over real quick like.
    We didn’t talk about it anymore but it was clear where the other stood.

    Our town board officers work as election judges. There’s one guy we have to remind not to be quite so free with his opinions while working as a judge. (Honestly, I just want him to shut up and not say anything ever again. But that ain’t going to happen…)

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Thanks, Ben, for adding to the conversation.

    I want to refine the picture I’ve offered about my parents, for maybe this will help others think about their parents as well. My picture of my folks as lifelong Republicans is accurate, but reflection has taught me that they were too decent to be close-minded.

    Examples: my dad was frankly afraid of gays and blacks, and yet one of his childhood heroes was a black veteran of WWI. And one of his best friends was a flamingly open gay man. I’ve decided that my parents were spooked by the image of blacks and gay folks, but when they actually knew a black or gay person they were less judgmental.

    After a business trip to New York my father told a story about being a passenger in a taxi. Seeing a black man walking on the street, the cab driver veered and struck the black guy with his fender. He cackled, “I got me a n****r!” The story shocked me. Years later I remembered it and realized that telling the story could only mean that my father was equally disgusted. My parents clung to conservative politics but were too good-hearted to hate minorities.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Very good question, with one profound answer: how do we come to hold our political convictions. How many of them have come from thought and how many from rearing.
    I am afraid much of mine come from my parents, two disaffected people who could come right out of a Hamlin Garland story of people caught under powerful forces. But one very intelligent person, my mother, who talked herself in front of us through her politics, religion, and philosophy, her philosophy being mostly cynicism. My father was simply an angry man, anger have arisen in a childhood of severe abuse and hard work, but with a native logic.
    My childhood politics are forged in the Eisenhower years of indifference, a believe, if I give Ike credit, that people are decent and will do decent things. I can only imagine Ike watching Trump. But decent people are eaten up by the indecent people. From my parents I acquired a belief that to acquire great wealth and power, you had to do indecent things, which would corrupt you. Most political and civic events since Ike. I believe, have reinforced theirs and my opinion. I do not excuse democrats from this charge, nor did my parents. But fore them and me the progressive movement was the right way to go for those caught at the bottom. The DFL had once carried that banner quite well. They were the best hope of two increasingly sad choices. My mother saw Kennedy for what he was, a decent man from indecent roots who lived with personal demons. The Camelot aspect, the pretense instead of reality of how they were pictured fed my mothers cynicism and mine.
    The steel industry was the demon in those years of NE MN, still living under the Carnegie legacy. But the unions were far away, controlled by men who were not much different than politicians. Strikes were called by them and not by the membership. Between Ike’s indifference and his correct assessment of the evils of the military-industrial complex, the inherent money-grabbing, short-term leadership of the steel industry and the steel unions, the steel industry died in the late 50’s.
    I believe in unions as simply necessary against that distant indifferent and sometimes evil force that decides the pay and rights of workers. I was long active in teacher unions and to some extent in the AFL-CIO on MN. When the two teachers fought for control of teachers, I was one of the moderate voices.
    But I remain a cynic about it all. It seems to me Minnesota put up a few good decent men, who were lost to the larger forces themselves, like HHH, or were flawed and limited by their innate cynicism, who were too also overwhelmed by those forces and the few men who controlled them, the backroom politics, the smoked-filled rooms, as it was called then. The fact that it was men and not women struck me clearly. What also struck me in my years in teacher union leadership, was how most of the women in the union, were resistant to change, who would not take a risk, who urges us to not roil the waters.
    I also learned the power of the middle position. We usually were among the first unions to settle and had one of the best contracts in the state because our negotiators were negotiators, as was our supt.. I also learned you cannot win. And that few people understand the collective in collective bargaining. There goes my cynicism again. With my life-long depression battle, I got worm out and quite all the fights.
    A last comment: my emerging faith fueled me through much of the depression battle. I have no idea how anyone concludes that the Scott Walkerish point of view has sprung from the Gospels. They read some other Bible.
    More could be said, but who wants to read this much?

    Liked by 3 people

  14. There was another odd chapter in my family’s political heritage. I’m the only Baboon, I believe, old enough to have experienced the Red Scare politics of Joseph McCarthy. When I was twelve I discovered some political pamphlets in our living room. They were sharply critical of Joseph McCarthy and his hysterical anti-Communist agenda. I remember seeing a political cartoon in which McCarthy is shown having killed a large number of innocent sheep with his shotgun, having missed the one Communist in the flock. It intrigued me that my parents were seriously frightened by McCarthy even though he, like they, was a Republican. It intrigued me even more that my parents hid their position on this issue from my sister and me. The anti-McCarthy pamphlets were buried under copies of House Beautiful, and I was not meant to see them.

    My mother eventually admitted to me that she hated McCarthy. When McCarthy’s reckless charges of Communists in the US government led to the Army-McCarthy hearings, they were covered live on television. My mom and I watched in fascination. The hearings effectively ended in a passionate speech from Joseph Welch, denouncing McCarthy. That speech resulted in the political death of the demagogue. As a kid I watched that speech, not understanding the legal principles being argued. But I was thrilled to tears when Welch blasted McCarthy, concluding with the words, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

    The words confused me. But I could tell that the sweet old guy had just slayed a nasty dragon right before my eyes. That experience was transforming.

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    1. I sort of experienced it. It was on the news radio in the kitchen. My mother spoke of it often, in disgust of political manipulation and ego.

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    2. My husband has a college friend from his University of Wisconsin days whose parents were prominent wisconsin Republicans. There is a photo of husband’s friend being dandled on Joe McCarthy’s knee as a toddler.

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      1. I don’t agree with many members of Congress, but I respect almost all of the folks who think differently from me. Joseph McCarthy is an exception. I regard him as a cynical, cruel, destructive man. I was thrilled when he cracked up and disappeared.

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  15. My parents usually had good discussions at the dinner table if us 7 kids weren’t trashing the place. My dad was in management — Director of Maintenance for the Green Bay School district and regularly dealt with unions — not happily I may add. My mother worked for the Wisconsin Unemployment division and was a member of the AFL-CIO, I believe. They disagreed (lovingly) but I believe they were both Democrats — and so am I. I believe my boys are generally heading in that direction as well, but sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s who anymore in politics. Donald Trump is a fascinating prospect — I’m not sure what kind of scary president he would make, but the idea of a politician not being bought off for favors is a refreshing thought.

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  16. I am a Twins fan but mostly ignore other sports. But one of my favorite ex-students and a delightful with and friend on fb is a sports reporter. So I pay about as scant attention to sports as I do to politics. But the attention I do pay suggests to me that sports and politics and the coverage thereof are almost identical. To name one things: “I did not do ________. but I apologize for it.”
    I retire my cynicism for the day, to all your relief. Will spend the rest of the afternoon with Sandy going through an expensive but almost certainly pointless procedure, for which the local clinic can bill the health insurance system. We sick old people are just a well of money.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. politics has made me what I am
    I was so appalled by the Vietnam war I dedicated my life to respect and honoring of life.
    Abbie Hoffman and jerry Ruben led the Chicago 7 and made the point that freedom isn’t free.
    Vladimir Putin could be Donald’s trumps running mate except I think they may be the same person, egotistical psychopaths with morals and ethics as words they have heard of but don’t practice like compassion and vision.
    to have the world sabatoged by bad guys is familiar but historically it it has been from overseas not from the congress and the tea party.
    politics used to be a place to support your beliefs . today it is watching hate and cancer tear this great country apart.
    I think joe Biden should announce he is running as Vice President and that elizabehnwarren is his running mate. I’d vote for that.

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  18. Greetings from Colorado! I’m bored at work so I decided to check out your website oon my iphone during lunch break.
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    Like

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