I was twelve and in the 7th grade. The spring before one of the fifth/sixth grade teachers at my Catholic school had decided to run a mock election to educate us about the democratic process and our effed-up vetting system as it was a Presidential election year. It was one of those hands on interdisciplinary units that has been going in and out of educational vogue since the early 70’s.
We were all assigned party affiliation and a job. Some of us were tapped to represent the actual candidates and make speeches. My friend Lisa J. was Mo Udall, I think*. I don’t remember what state I represented as a delegate. Someplace small and insignificant and ironically good practice for all the years I voted Democratic during the endless Republican regimes.
The thing I remember most was that the whole thing was a lot of fun. Infinitely more fun than the Colonial experience we were subjected to as 7th graders when some of us got to be privileged Tories and the rest of us Yanks**.
So much fun was had and so jazzed we were about Jimmy Carter that a bunch of us went and volunteered at the Democratic headquarters in our little town. The staffers there didn’t really know what to do with us. I think they might have thought they were getting high schoolers and didn’t quite know how to utilize pre-teens. We ended up stuffing envelopes. It was very exciting. Really, it was.
I went out and bought a Jimmy Carter t-shirt*** and quizzed my parents and other adults I knew about who they were going to vote for, making sure to re-educate them when they foolishly admitted their Ford leaning ways.
Fast forward to 1984. Orwell couldn’t have written a more horrifying story. Four more years of Ronald Reagan.
Seriously, that Reagan still garners so much praise and admiration puzzles me to no end. The man let his unelected advisors run our country. Trillions of dollars evaporated on his watch. Social systems were dismantled. Education suffered huge setbacks from which it still hasn’t recovered. And we opened the doors to theocratic governing that has taken incalcuable chunks out of our personal freedoms. What a guy.
And on top of it, the guy was suffering from dementia to varying degrees for most of that term and this was kept from us.****
Jump ahead with me, if you will, to 1992. I am second in line at my polling station to cast my vote for Bill Clinton. I practically bounce with glee at the prospect of finally electing the POTUS. I Snoopy-dance all day, much to the annoyance of the few Republicans I teach with. If I did nothing else that day by way of teaching, I taught my students the joy of participation in our political system – for the winner anyway.
You might wonder if I believed that Clinton was a morally upright guy who hadn’t cheated on his wife or engaged in nefarious dealings as the govenor of Arkansas.
I course I didn’t.
Years of family valued, moral right-wing evangelical rule had only reinforced the lesson I learned the summer I was ten*****, politicians are power seekers by nature and put their own ambitions and needs first and do their job second. What I cared most about was that the first didn’t negate the second. In other words, whatever they did out of sight in the confines of their personal lives didn’t matter so long as they did as an elected official what they said they were going to do.
Clinton is as morally relative as they come, but I never doubted – still don’t – his love for his country and his passion about governing. The man loves the job and what’s more – he did it as much as he was able given the checks and balance system we live under.
My participatory joy has tempered quite a bit since the summer of ’76. Thirty plus years and a too intimate encounter with several government agencies during my late husband’s illness have jaded me even more than Nixon did in 1974.
The United States is my homeland, but it is just a place – not a democratic Nirvana and Buddha reincarnates the Dali Lama, not the POTUS.
Okay, so Julie’s Hump Day instructions:
Next week…several people asked that the topic be related to my last post, about 1984. It doesn’t have to be political, it doesn’t have to be 1984 (keeping in mind that not everyone was born or much aware at that point). But choose a time that was an awakening for you, select a year or an event that year, that you invested in, although you might now have been quite old enough to understand it fully, and that affected you down the line. Or write about 1984, the election or your life then.
The following week…build on the idea in this post, and the concept of awakening. What shift in thinking have you experienced that caused you to view others differently, and created a new way of thinking in yourself?
*Lisa J, correct me if I am wrong.
**Tories could use the restroom at will while we Yanks only got potty breaks at lunch and before gym in the afternoon. Catholic school teachers could give lessons to the non-torturers at GITMO.
***I still have that shirt in a cedar chest in my parents’ basement in Iowa.
****This is why McCain frightens me. Senility descends by fractions until it reaches a certain point and the dam bursts.
*****Like the TV baby and geek I was, I watched the hearings proceeding Nixon’s resignation every day. It was fascinating. Partly because it was grown-ups punishing other grown-ups for behavior that most of them regularly engaged in – as far as I could see – which was lying and then lying about lying. If I learned anything growing up in my working class neighborhood and going to Catholic school is that moral relativism rules and that getting caught is what makes something wrong. Once found out, you stood up and took your punishment for being stupid – not for being bad.