Voting and politics have been part of my life since the earliest days. I remember discussing Dwight Eisenhower with my parents. He was a Republican and we didn’t like him for that. When he started building the Interstate Highway System, it had a direct impact on our lives. We revised our position to say he wasn’t so bad and looked forward to cutting down the time it took to drive to my aunt and uncle’s home in Nashville, Tennessee.
Harry Truman was president when I was born. I have no memory of him in that role. I recall seeing news footage of Truman taking a walk from his retirement home in Independence, Missouri. Mostly, I reference his memoirs to see what he had to say about decisions he made as president. I’ve read the passage about his decision to drop the atomic bomb several times.
Father campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960. He had mimeographed canvass sheets he got at the union hall and diligently filled in the names of everyone on our block and how they would vote. When he finished our block, he worked on nearby ones. Kennedy lost Iowa to Richard Nixon and, as we know, won the general election.
The 1964 election of Lyndon B. Johnson framed the way I thought Democrats should govern. LBJ had a big majority in the legislature and was able to pass legislation. In his book The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969 he listed them inside the front cover. It’s a long list. If his political legacy is tainted by the war in Vietnam, it is dominated by many policies and legislation that changed the United States for the better. I was shocked when Hubert Humphrey failed to win the 1968 election as I felt he was cut in the LBJ mold and would be a great successor. Nixon beat Humphrey 301-191 in the Electoral College. It wasn’t even close.
I have nothing good to say about the Nixon years. 1972 was the first year I was eligible to vote and I don’t recall if I did vote for George McGovern. I remember some confusion about whether I could vote in Iowa City, where I attended university, or whether I had to vote at home. I recently wrote about the 1972 election and McGovern here. Nixon was a liar and it was with a sigh of relief I welcomed his resignation in 1974. I didn’t care who was president. Gerald Ford? Fine.
I didn’t vote in the 1976 election as I was engaged in military training. We were rid of Nixon, so I didn’t much care who was elected. My thinking was “America, figure it out.” From my perch in Mainz, West Germany I thought Carter was doing an okay job. I felt he was unjustly criticized for lack of support for the military when I saw the results of his policy and spending not far from my caserne. During a major field exercise in which I participated, our commanding officer would travel back to the states each week to provide an update to the White House. I saw some of the ideas we discussed in a tent in Germany turned into policy in Washington. It was a heady feeling.
Reagan was the beginning of the decline of America’s greatness with its focus on reducing the power of the central government, favoring the rich. Maybe we were just receiving a comeuppance after the LBJ years. The Reagan administration began overturning reforms of the New Deal, something that would persist with every subsequent Republican president. Each played a role in dismantling the social fabric we had come to depend upon. The years since then left us with with hyper-partisanship and a flow of wealth to a small percentage of people.
My early years, through exiting the military in 1979, were formative. It would be difficult to write about the politics as a separate topic in an autobiography. The challenge is to incorporate these stories in the flow of the book without having them dominate. Figuring this out is where I am this Monday morning.
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