Monday, March 14, 2016

Politics Past

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?


  1. I want to join Rhys's Sensible People Party, too.
    Generally, when I was growing up, my family did not tend to be active in political campaigns [with the exception of supporting my grandmother's brother who ran for and served as sheriff for several years].
    My grandmother was a stalwart Republican, something I failed to mention to John before he met her for the first time. Naturally, her first question was "Republican or Democrat?" leaving me to panic over his answer since politics wasn't something we'd ever discussed. Thankfully, she was happy with his "Republican, of course" reply . . . .

  2. Sign me up for your party, Rhys.

    I grew up in a town where the local paper was named the Rutherford Republican. As if that wasn't enough, my mother was a member of the local Republican Committee. You know I started voting life as a dyed in the wool Democrat. The year I turned twenty-one, the voting age dropped to eighteen. My first vote was for Carter. It was nice to start out voting for a winner. It's been such a rare occurrence.

    I've mellowed considerably and I confess, now I too vote personality over party, hoping that promises made will be promises kept and not forgotten at the White House door.

  3. I love those posters, Julia! And heck,
    not only Rhys's party, Rhys for president! How about that?
    I do cherish my political campaign experience… It was valuable in so many ways: learning organization, community, teamwork, working for a goal. It also gave me some very good book ideas… :-)

  4. Hooray for the sensible people's party. Hank, I have a feeling you'd have a tough time talking Rhys into running...

    Joan, so funny about your grandmother. She sounds like a strong woman who knew her mind!

    Kait, Jimmy Carter is the man I'd vote for as "done most good AFTER he was president."

  5. Alas, while Rhys would make an excellent chief executive, she's ineligible for the presidency because she's not a native-born American. If anyone wants to start a petition drafting her for governor of California, however...

  6. I, too, want to join Rhy's Sensible People party.

    And Hallie, too funny about the boyfriend.

    I switched my party affiliation to Independent some years ago, since I'm another who votes person over party. I started life as a Republican because, like so many of you, that's what my parents were. But in my first presidential vote in 1992, I voted for Clinton. I'm not sure the vote was terribly informed. I just wanted to vote for the younger guy.

    My daughter will be old enough to vote in the next presidential election in 2020. Perhaps my son, too (yes, he'll be 18 that summer - I can do math). If she were voting right now, she'd vote for Bernie - probably. "Because he seems to make sense and yells the least." She's not telling her father that, though.

  7. My sister used to say that you know your did a good job raising your kids when they pay for their own shrink; I say it's when they vote. Both of my daughters VOTE... I don't care who for, just that they do.

    And sign me up for the SPP (Sensible Peoples Party), too - I'm ready to print bumper stickers.

  8. Oh, right, Julia. Oops. How could I forget that?

    And even though the campaign phone calls and door knocks are SO annoying, I still have some fond memories of doing that in my early days as a volunteer--we didn't phone, I think, just door to door. Because at least people have a cause. We didn't get paid, though!

  9. Those posters are priceless!

    I'm another one who proudly voted as soon as I could, and I've only missed two years--not presidential election years, either--in the last 46 years since. Once because I was sent out of town at the last minute, and the other time because I was too ill to leave the house.

    Two of my three daughters, both of whom are proud supporters of the first woman candidate, are very engaged voters. My middle daughter caucused for the first time in Boulder, and she said it was an exhilarating experience. The youngest recently told me she has never voted in a primary. I was shocked. I took them with me to "kid vote" in every election of their childhood, trying to impress upon them the importance of sharing your voice, as a privilege and responsibility of citizenship. The other two daughters and I are going to stage an intervention.

  10. Hallie, my daughter votes, too, and I'm so proud of her. Not only does she vote, she researches and fact checks. And she actually asks other people their opinions, which in these days of yelling on social media is almost unheard of. Maybe we should nominate Kayti to run for the Sensible People's Party. I want my SPP button!!

  11. Sign me up for the Sensible People's Party!

    When I came of age, the voting age was 21. I have never missed an election or a primary. When necessary, I have voted by Absentee ballot. It always shocks me to find out that someone I know has never registered to vote. I tend to vote for the person, rather than the party.

    My father was opinionated when it came to elections, and dinner table discussions could be quite interesting around election time! I think it shocked him that his kids didn't always share his political convictions! Neither did my mother! For years she refused to tell anyone who she voted for in 1960. "That's why we have a secret ballot!" In the eighties she finally revealed that she had voted for Kennedy. My dad would not have approved!

    Deb Romano

  12. A very loud and supportive YES to the SPP! I'll work and work hard for that party. In the meantime, I'm working hard this year at the grassroots level where we can do a lot of good for change in the future, I think. I've always voted, always been political and this year decided I needed to work harder instead of mostly talking about it. It feels good.

  13. Heaving a sigh of relief that this isn't a hot bed of Trumpettes. I am so glad my Texas friend, Deb, supported Obama even though I would have preferred Hillary in 2008, with Obama accepting the torch this year. We live a couple of miles from the graves of Frederick Douglass and Susan B Anthony, a nice neighborhood for a bleeding heart liberal leftist pinko commie lesbian to walk her dogs and spread the word that all people are created equal. However dogs and cats rule.

    Tomorrow I get my second eye done. Let's hear it for cataract elimination in this lifetime!

  14. When I was growing up, the dominant party in my part of Kentucky was Democrat. I registered as a Democrat for the reason many of you did, that's what my parents were. One of my best friend's mother was a Republican, an active one, and I realized when I was grown that she was considered a bit of an odd duck. I didn't care what she was because to me she was one of the loveliest people I've ever known. What's interesting to me now is how much our state has changed, and how much the Democratic party of my father's youth must have changed for him over the years. I dare say that he probably started voting Republican at some point (he was born in 1901). He was not liberal in any sense of the word. Which meant, of course, that my political leanings were liberal and fit in very much with the Democratic party. In college in the seventies, I definitely fit in the liberal mode. And, I pretty much was in Democratic mode up to the time that my husband was called up as an Army Reservist to serve in the regular Army and went to the Pentagon as his first assignment in 2002. His position began to sway my politics some, and I went through a more conservative period. It didn't last a long time, as I was definitely an Obama supporter. I remember my daughter laughing and telling me at one point, after I swung back liberal, that she thought she'd lost me. Hahaha! The important thing is that my children grew up with voting parents. I think it's one of the responsibilities a parent has to their children, as well as to their country.

  15. I, too, would enthusiastically support the Sensible People Party. Because there seem to be precious few of them showing themselves present in the established parties.

    I was raised in a Republican home and theoretically supported Republican candidates before I was old enough to vote for them, but like Julia, the John Anderson campaign was the first one that really excited me and I actively worked on it. I recently looked up his positions to see what I would think about them all these years later, and I'm not at all sure I wouldn't be out working for him today if he was running!

    I was a registered independent for many years, then declared a party so I could vote in some close and meaningful-to-me local primaries. Then I got so profoundly disillusioned with the traditional two parties that I went back to registering as an independent, which more authentically represents my views. But here in Ohio our primary is tomorrow, and I think I'm going to vote in the Republican one so I can cast a vote against someone, rather than a vote for. These feel like troubled times!

  16. I've been a registered Independent since I was 18. My dad was a rabid Republican, whew-wee, and it always struck me funny because he was also a Berkenstock-wearing, Camaro-driving Marin County dude. He was also socially liberal. (Hired a man who was HIV+ back in the bad old HIV/AIDs fear-mongering, paranoia days.) So really, I think he was pretty independent-thinking himself, which is probably where I got it from ...

  17. Lisa, so interesting. I love the description of your dad! My dad was very liberal in so many ways for his time (certainly a generation older than your dad, or more) except in his politics. People are complicated...

    Julia, I meant to say, I LOVE your posters!

  18. People are way complicated! Which is one reason why developing characters can be so fun. :-)

  19. When I was growing up Texas was strictly a Democrat state. Grandpa always voted that ticket or he didn't vote. My parents voted mainly Republican. I certainly remember I Like Ike buttons. I knew who Eisenhower was but had to have Ike explained to me! Anyone remember the AuH2O bumper stickers? My first voting experience was in 1972. I had just married my Vietnam war vet and was faced with the choice of Nixon or McGovern. I didn't like either but went with Nixon. I remember being rather depressed with the choices I was given. Louisiana politics were so damned entertaining that I actually enjoyed voting there. Edwin Edwards was elected governor right before we married. Edwin was married to one of my father-in-law's sisters, but I never met him. He was entertaining and slick. Years later my husband and son traveled to LA on spring break while I was toiling over tax returns and brought back a souvenir. Remember the year Edwin was running against the Grand Wizard of the KKK in the 90's? I woke up one morning and saw a sign in our front yard: Vote for the Crook! with Edwin's picture on it. For quite a few years now I have been independent but not affiliated with any independent party. I'm afraid I am completely disgusted with all the parties and their behavior. I think we should disband the parties and make the pols regroup with new names. Whigs, Bullmoose, you name it. And then save an enormous amount of money (and sanity) and not allow any campaigning until 6 months before the conventions. No primaries. Running for office takes up too much time when governing should be the priority. There! I've had my say and didn't badmouth anyone.

  20. Susan, I wish you would reconsider voting Democratic tomorrow. We need a good showing for the Democrats here in Ohio. And in open primary states like ours, switching sides is skewing the data weirdly.

    Like many of you I've been a member of both major parties, beginning as a Young Democrat at my Catholic high school in the late 60's. But like most of us, I'm barely one side or the other of the middle. Our perception of the middle just keeps changing, depending on where the power structure lies at the moment, I think.

    Ann, I know what you mean about the hotbed. Such a relief!

  21. Rhys's Sensible Party is sounding very good. Born and bred Democrat, though much more radical in my college days -- Vietnam War woke up many people. I came home from storytelling to find that Bernie Sanders had left a message on my machine. I'm saving it for a while . . . at least until after I vote tomorrow. These are scary days. I'm hoping for the best for all of us.

  22. As a Canadian, I find our political parties don't really map onto yours, but it's always fascinating reading about your electoral campaigns. We've had some doozies for politicians, too -- ones that really made me wonder why anyone would vote for them.

    By the time I got to vote, the voting age had been dropped to 18 -- but there weren't any elections until I was very nearly 21. It annoyed me no end! That didn't stop me from being politically aware and joining parties and debating politics -- I remember having a huge argument with a dear friend about supporting Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Justin's father) in his first election as PM.

    I've voted in every election I've been eligible for -- there's always some issues I care about -- but my deepest interest has always been at the municipal level, where in most parts of Canada we don't have political parties but rather vote for individual candidates. I think some of you might prefer that, but unfortunately it doesn't scale well :-( :-(

  23. My grandmother from Boston hosted teas for democratic candidates. There were politicians in and out of the house. It stuck. I couldn't possibly embrace anything else.

  24. I just started Rhys' _In a Gilded Cage_ and . . . Votes for Women marchers in the Easter Parade -- such appropriate reading for this election season. I usually read a series in order if I can, but I couldn't resist _Away in a Manger_ at Christmas. I'm finding that it is enhancing, not diminishing, my enjoyment of the conflicts and discussions between Molly and Daniel.
    A friend just reminded me that I had fixed dinner for the SWP presidential candidate back in the '70s. As Molly said, "The way to a man's heart . . . "

  25. Deborah, I have two original "I Like Ike" buttons and did actually wear them during an earlier campaign which now seems far less inane and frightening than the current one. I think I'll bring them out again.