Although my father was a registered Republican, the only GOP candidate he ever supported was Eisenhower. During the 1960 presidential race, he angrily called The Los Angeles Times circulation department to cancel his subscription whenever Nixon's picture appeared on page one. Finally, the paperwork became just too much. The LA Times cancelled his subscription permanently. Thereafter, my parents bought the newspaper at the supermarket.
As I grew up and my political beliefs became -- more or less -- my own, I was transported by Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and John Kennedy's inaugural address where he exhorted us to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". I was shocked and saddened by the triple assassinations -- JFK. MLK, RFK. I applauded LBJ's Civil Rights, Medicare and other social programs while nurturing mixed feelings about the Vietnam war in which my beloved brother risked his life.
Despite the fact that dislike of Richard Nixon was practically in my DNA, I was heartened by his Title X legislation for federal funding of family planning and health-related services. I was puzzled and frustrated by Jimmy Carter (whom I later admired as an ex-president), and absolutely appalled by Reagan and his voodoo economics.
I was first optimistic about and then angry with Bill Clinton as he squandered much of his presidency by playing into the hands of rabid opponents with his sexual misconduct and, despite the more robust economy on his watch, he further set the stage for eventual economic disaster with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act in his second term.
I neared apoplexy during the era of George W. Bush. Loathing isn't a strong enough term to describe my feelings for the man and his policies, his admission that his base was "the haves and have mores", and his decisions that put us on the road to near financial ruin in 2008 and perpetual war.
I had such hope for Obama. I felt suddenly able to dream that an outsider with the wisdom and the strength of character and spirit to change the order of things in Washington could make a real difference. My feelings for President Obama have changed considerably in the light of pre-emptive concessions, Wall Street insider appointments, financial criminals unpunished, millions of Americans suffering, GE paying no taxes and its CEO -- who has contributed immeasurably to the unemployment misery here by sending countless jobs overseas -- appointed to Obama's council on jobs. I could go on.
What do you do when you're politically riled but you're older, not as affluent and not as mobile as you used to be?
I did a little protesting back in the day. In my active working years, I wrote letters to the newspaper editors, letters to my congressional representatives, wrote magazine articles and contributed to political causes and campaigns. But what now? I'm disgusted with both Republicans and Democrats. There's no likely Presidential candidate nor local who seems worth campaign efforts or funds. If I continue to write letters, emails, sign petitions, write articles and blogs and speak out, will it do any good?
Speaking one's mind can be cathartic. Through the years, I've enjoyed rant-fests with my siblings. Mike, Tai and I are all very different people, with quite diverse life paths, but we all passionately agree politically -- and can spend hours sharing our outrage, our hopes and our dreams. But are we reinforcing each other in difficult times? Or simply raising our collective blood pressure as we carry on?
Beyond self-expression, how do we make a difference?
My husband Bob is a bright, well-read man with political views a bit more moderate than mine. He is convinced that news -- particularly t.v. news -- has de-generated into partisan celebration of peripheral issues and people, cynically programmed to get maximum outrage with minimum effective action from citizens. He has a point.
I watched the Today Show at the gym this morning and had to shake my head at the major deal made of the media-fueled Donald Trump/Bill Cosby feud. People are losing their homes and, in some instances, their lives in the present fiscal crisis. Our government is now embroiled in not two, but three wars and nearly shut down over partisan Budget disputes. Japan continues to be inundated with tragic events. And precious news minutes are wasted on a story that was lame the minute it happened. As a lunatic-come-lately on the Birther front, Donald Trump is a bore. And Bill Cosby could have more effectively countered his lunacy by confronting it directly instead of making the snarky comment that Trump was "running his mouth." And, in any event, none of this was news.
Bob also argues that stomping around cursing about politics is bad for the heart and the soul. Once again, he has a point.
Perhaps I need to take a hiatus from most of what passes as news these days. Perhaps I need to focus on what I can do to make a difference with people who are suffering right here and now in small but vital ways. And while my writing skills can always be useful in advocacy and in expressing public outrage, perhaps I need to look to other skills as well -- other ways to care and to help facilitate change locally, here and now.
But it's hard to let go.
Maybe I'm just getting old and pining for the past that was -- at once -- both worse and better than I remember. There was McCarthy, after all. And the civil rights violations and gender bias that sparked protest movements and significant social change.
But there was also Eisenhower, warning against the Military-Industrial Complex in his farewell address to the nation. What president today, even when stepping down, would make such a warning?
There was John Kennedy, urging us to give of ourselves, and Lyndon Johnson managing to get legislation through Congress that would be unthinkable today.
And who would have thought Nixon would start to look less a villain and more a progressive? In the wake of the recent standoff over funding for Planned Parenthood, what Republican president (or Democratic president for that matter?) would sign a bill like Title X today?
Perhaps my sudden political nostalgia is not so much longing for good old days, but for the days when we were, as a nation, more concerned with the common good -- the days when, more often than not. we cared about and were good to each other.