Monday, March 14, 2016
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My mother taught me there are three things polite people don't discuss in public: politics, money and sex. While the internet at large has made this standard hopelessly obsolete, we at JRW still hew to the older, more genteel ways (with the exception of white after Labor Day, which seems to be falling fast.) So fear not, dear readers, we're not going to delve into proselytizing or predictions for the most interesting primary season we've seen in years.
We are, however, going to reminisce. The votes of young people - those 18 to 24 - are going to be critical again this year, and that makes me think of my own first forays into democracy. Right after my eighteenth birthday, I registered in the state of New York. This is how I decided my political affiliation: I asked my mother what she was registered as, and then ticked the opposite box. (We had had quite a few clashes during my college search and I was still feeling rebellious. Sorry, Mom!) But my first political crush wasn't a Democrat or Republican, it was independent John Anderson. I'm embarrassed to say I can't recall a single thing about his campaign or positions except that he was a good-looking silver-haired guy and almost everyone on my campus, except the Young Republicans, who were swooning over Ronald Reagan, supported him. I was not what you would call a high-information voter.
Ah, youth. I emerged from college a full-fledged Bolshevik who honestly believed we would be better off handing over all means of production and letting a benevolent government take care of us. Then I moved to DC, saw the benevolent government up close and personal, and started paying taxes. The next election I voted for George HW Bush. My shifts weren't as seismic as Ross's, though. He went from being a Political Science major at Georgetown who interned with National Conservative Political Action Committee to a Jerry Brown delegate in 1992!
In '92 (gosh, that makes me sound like a middle aged Victorian reminiscing during the Jazz Age) we went to hear as many candidates as we could. Maine, being a caucus state with a small population, rarely gets the big hitters to show up and speechify - we usually see the outsiders and the underdogs. The only one I remember - and vividly! - was Bill Clinton, who, regardless of what you think of his policies, has got to be the most charismatic speaker I have ever heard. I was mesmerized. I literally whipped out my checkbook and dropped a donation into a collection box in the lobby. And Ross, "Mr. Jerry Brown," agreed to it!
The one thing that has remained constant through my left-right-left-right swings has been showing up to vote. My grandmother was eleven when women achieved suffrage through the 19th amendment. She remembered how her mother, a woman in her late thirties, was incredibly excited to go to the polls for the first time in her life. She impressed on me what a privilege and honor it was for women to vote, and my feminist mother encouraged me to never miss the opportunity to let my voice be heard. I'm happy to say my daughters are carrying on the tradition: The Smithie hasn't missed an election - national or local - since she turned eighteen, and Youngest ran for student office as a freshman in high school!
How about you, Reds? What were your first forays into politics?
RHYS BOWEN: I've shied away from politics all my life, mainly because I seem to fall right in the middle between extreme left and extreme right. I've always voted based on personality rather than party, much to John's horror. Voted for both Diane Feinstein and Jerry Brown! If I had more time on my hands I'd found the Sensible People's Party , one where the aim was to make good decisions that benefit all people and not be behooven to special interests (is there such a word as behooven?) .
My closest brush with democracy at work was when I was part of a committee to stop the local education board from closing our high school. The rest of the board put tremendous pressure on me to run for city council. Luckily they found another sucker, uh worthy candidate.
HALLIE EPHRON: I hate getting into political discussions because these days people just talk past each other. Then they yell. And any time people are yelling at each other I'm out of there.
When I was in high school, I used to tell my parents that I was going to a Young Democrats meeting when I was really going down the block to meet my boyfriend whose motorcycle I was not allowed to ride on. My parents were old lefties. Loved FDR and Stevenson. My mother voted over and over for Norman Thomas, Socialist party candidate for president. So it won't surprise you that the first political campaign in which I was actively involved was Eugene McCarthy's failed bid. I was in college in NYC and election eve I helped get out the vote - it was a very sad night. It's no fun losing.
LUCY BURDETTE: I'm embarrassed to say that my first vote was for Richard Nixon. Honestly, I was Daddy's girl at that point and since he voted for Nixon, I did too. Four years earlier in high school, I temporarily got absorbed into the Young Republicans. I wasn't informed on any of the issues, but I wanted to go on their bus to Washington for the inaugural parade. Which I did! I was interviewed on the street by a famous TV journalist whose name I might remember eventually, and I'm sure he found me a poor subject.
"Tell the TV viewers across America why you're here to support President Nixon?"
What was I going to say, it looked like a fun trip? Utterly mortifying...
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, my parents were the only ones in the neighborhood who backed Adlai Stevenson. So I proudly wore my Adlai button while everyone else Liked Ike. In college, my roommate Ann and I hitch-hiked from Oxford Ohio to Cincinnati to go door to door handing out campaign flyers for Gene McCarthy. We got in a lot of trouble for it. The hitch-hiking part, I mean. After college, I was filled with the desire to change the world, and went to work for several political campaigns, as a staffer to the state committee (my desk-mate was Jane Pauley) and then for several candidates.
Sadly, every candidate I worked for lost, so I figured it was time to start a new career. So I applied for a job as a reporter, and the rest is... .
And I still have my McGovern/Eagleton button! How about that for a forgotten story...
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I want to join Rhys's Sensible People's Party! Can we get buttons made, please? I've actually been contemplating an I LIKE IKE button. Eisenhower, the Republican who nowadays would be considered a rabid liberal...
My parents were committed Republicans. And disagreeing with my father on politics was considered tantamount to treason in my family. So I didn't. But I didn't have to tell them how I voted!!
Julia, I wish I'd heard Clinton speak! I did hear both George H and George W. George H was a surprisingly charismatic speaker considering that he didn't come across well on television.
The first campaign I actively supported was Obama in 2008, but even then we didn't put up signs. Where we live, that's just asking for trouble.
JULIA: How about you, dear readers?What are the buttons and bumper stickers in your past?