Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Political Memories

My first political memory is of my father raging about vice-president Richard Nixon and using the cardboard from that day's laundry-starched dress shirt to draw a breakfast table political cartoon for me -- the same one every day -- of politicians (depicted as pigs) crowding around the public trough. I would giggle over the drawing, then listen with rapt attention as he ranted about Nixonian evils.

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.


  1. Gee, you're taking the words right out of my mouth. I have never been this irrated at politicians as I am right now. I guess I have more time to pay attention and more to lose if things continue to deteriorate.

  2. Those good news stories are out there, they're just hard to find among all the other crap. I have great admiration for the regular people who are working locally for issues that are important to them (with the exception of the right to life people who just irritate me!) Perhaps to really effect change we have to first work small within our own sphere of influence. If we all did that, could we change the world?

  3. Maybe we could. #1 Nana. I like to think so -- that in being kind and decent and trying to make a difference in small ways here, more extensive change is possible. I think it's our best hope -- to be kind and caring with each other. I share your concerns and irritation, Rosaria. Maybe we do have more time to pay attention to what's going wrong, but we certainly have a lot to lose if things continue to deteriorate. I'm worried not only about possible cuts to Social Security and possible gutting of Medicare (and politicians and the media fanning the fires of generational wars), but also the assault on programs for the poor and disadvantaged. I already see that the first to take a hit in the new proposed budget from the White House are the poor. Wow. What a surprise.

  4. OMG! An ad for Mitt Romney for President just popped up on my blog! Instant karma from the GOP! Scary...

  5. I agree with everything you have said. Tonight after listening to my favorite political programs I felt another wave of depression for the direction politics seems to be taking. I've not made up my mind about Obama, but do question some of the compromises which I don't always believe were compromises. He's making a speech later today and I'm worried he may be considering serious damage to Medicare/medicaid and Social Security. Any talk about Social Security infuriates me. I only learned recently that the governments biggest debt is money it borrowed from Social Security to the tune of $5 trillion. I'd better stop before I start foaming at the mouth -- again!

  6. I do believe you're right in your summation--that it comes down to care and purpose. Or at least that is should. Whether it ever will again is up to many more than can be found here or elsewhere.

  7. Politics is indeed frustrating. Like you, I often have hope that finally----only to be disappointed once again.
    I still write my congress men and women on issues that concern me but I do feel more and more that our wheels are coming off and the problems are just too complex to fix. I do believe age has worn me down.
    Maybe we need a woman in charge, providing it is not one that thinks proximity to Russia constitutes knowledge of foreign policy.

  8. I feel so sad to read of your disillusion with President Obama, Kathy. I followed his campaign with great interest and stayed up all night to watch the results come in and hear his acceptance speech (at 5am UK time). It felt like a new beginning for the USA and it's very disappounting that so little seems to have come of it. I know circumstances were (and are) very difficult, but I get the impression from what you write that much could have been done that hasn't been.

  9. I try to focus on my circle of influence; it's better for my mental health. Today Art and I drove 30 miles to participate in a Habitat for Humanity build. I did relatively little, but while I was doing it, I wasn't thinking about anything else. The only other time that happens is when I'm doing yoga.

  10. You're absolutely right, Linda. Focusing on what we can do to make the world a better place is better for one's mental health than feeling angry and powerless. And yoga would certainly help, too! Thanks!

  11. I no longer discuss about politics. It has become a very unpleasant topic for me. Same as Linda, I try to do my best for the social groups I work with, and for the community I live in.


  12. You're right, Doris! Back to reflections!

  13. The fact that so many of those who commented shows so many care. I doubt you will be successful in avoiding politics. Why? You are someone who deeply cares to have a better world. I share that syndrome with you and your readers. Whatever patch we were born under-cabbage- or whatever planet we came from before landing on this rock, our passions came with us. We want this planet to shine. It is so dark right now with greedy politicians trying to turn the world into the image of their own dark hearts that without other distractions we would go mad. Your blog is like going to the local watering hole or bar to commiserate with like-minded fellows. You are a beakon of light in the dimmng world. Thank goodness for your blog. Don't let ad-manipulation stop you. AND, shame on anyone who would try to curb free speech. Especially, such a beautiful and clear voice.