I first became interested in presidential politics in the eighth grade. I didn’t care about the economy, jobs, social security, or college tuition. I only cared about one issue: the Vietnam War. I was amazingly ignorant of the history of the region, geopolitics, military strategy, the Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the American soldier. But, I had common sense. After watching the evening news report the war straight from the battlefield for a while, it became clear that even with our huge military advantage and all the damage America had done with Agent Orange, carpet bombing, machine gun fire, and the torching of villages, America would not achieve victory for anyone. My awareness of the futility of the Vietnam War coincided with Nixon’s escalation and expansion of the war. The secret plan Nixon discussed during the ’72 election season was simply hiding the war’s failure. The blood of soldiers and innocents still stains our hands.
I grew to hate Nixon as only a thirteen-year-old with a black and white view of the world can. When Ford came along after Watergate, I had no opinion of him. His mistake–he pardoned Nixon. I would have done the same thing, but the American people did not pardon Ford who lost to a Georgia Peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter.
I don’t recall voting in 1976, the first year I would have been eligible. Carter didn’t understand Washington politics. He was a decent hard-working man who was in over his head. His Mister Rogers approach to talking to the American people didn’t work well in those times. I spent every late night watching Ted Koppel’s show Nightline with its ongoing, never-ending opening that counted the number of days since the Iranian hostage situation began.
A lot of other people were watching the news about Iran as well, which is why Ronald Reagan won the election. I was surprised. It was Reagan, who as governor of California in 1969, escalated a conflict eventually sending in over 2,000 National Guard troops to the University of California at Berkeley. They sprayed tear gas from helicopters at students, faculty, and community activists who were protesting. I had not forgotten. Watch it on YouTube if you want to see what an authoritarian government looks like. Reagan narrowly lost the nomination to Ford in 1976, and then won the election against Carter in 1980. The first October surprise was the release of the hostages. I voted for Carter in his second run and believe he would have been a great second-term president.
The Republican party’s January surprise was the discovery (no big surprise to everyone else) that Reagan was an idiot. Reagan’s popularity fell quite rapidly after he took office until John Hinckley came along and helped Reagan shoot up in the polls. I deeply disliked Reagan. I could not understand how the American people elected someone who thought that ICBMs could be recalled. He was an actor, playing a part. At times, he played the role of the stern father figure quite well, reading the words of gifted speech writers. But, although a gifted story-teller, he was not a president who served the people well. Just ask those who had AIDS in the early 80s. Oh, sorry, you can’t, can you? Reagan never talked about it. He seemed to think God was speaking while people died. I don’t believe there is any president who has been elevated so highly by myth. For example, he gets credit for “tearing down that wall,” but he had no idea the wall was unstable until he rushed overseas for the photo-op. Anyway, we elected him twice. He crushed Mondale in the second election in 1984. Orwell’s vision was born. Reality TV and politics were aligning.
In 1988, George Bush and Dan Quayle were a team. Can’t Indiana produce any VPs with half a wit? Dukakis, the Democrat, blew it. Bush ran on Reagan’s legacy. Dukakis ran a tank into the ground. I voted for Jesse Jackson. Bush as a moderate Republican was a vast improvement over Reagan. But he said, “read my lips, no new taxes.” Later, he signed the bill raising taxes. I give him credit for that. He did what he felt was right even though it hurt him politically. Who does that anymore? If you see someone who puts the best interest of the country ahead of their personal interests or the interests of their party, vote for that person.
Bill Clinton came along with scandals in tow, but he sure had a gift for talk. Progress was made in his era, but his Monica moments in the White House blackened the oval office. By the time Clinton left, George Bush II had given up drinking and womanizing and was somehow prepared to be president. Bush was the least qualified and the worst president in my lifetime. At least so far.
Trump would be far, far worse, but Bush and Trump have a lot in common. Neither can construct a coherent argument. Both were given what they have by their fathers. Each used prejudices in their campaigns. Both are arrogant. They surround themselves with people who suck up to them rather than people who are knowledgeable, skillful, and fair-minded. We voted George Bush II into office not once, but twice. We paid the price.
Obama came along at a time when the divisions in politics were at their highest. Looking back, historians will say he was one of the great presidents. Trump brags about the size of his crowds, but they are nowhere near Obama’s superstar sized crowds. America made progress in the past seven years during a time of great upheaval. Obama’s character has been flawless. He’s been cool under pressure. He dealt with an economy that could have collapsed, a terrorist threat unlike any other, and a Congress that took partisanship to a place where the government may never find a way to function smoothly again.
McCain had some admirable qualities and was familiar with governing, but his Congressional history and military hawkishness scared me, and his selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate exposed his desperation and poor judgement. Mitt Romney may well have won had he simply told the truth about what he stood for. Mitt was too scared to run as a pragmatist, so he flip-flopped and had to spend his airtime defending his position changes. Today, he must be asking himself what would have happened if he expressed pride in his business successes and in his innovations, like Romney Care. He must have shaken his head in dismay as Trump took positions across the board while the Republican leadership flip-flopped and flipped back again as he flopped. Romney’s speaking against Trump is a point in his favor.
So today, our attention is on Clinton II and Trump. I voted early. I supported Sanders because we desperately need reform. He’s gone. He had a hard time tooting his own horn. The music, however, continues to play. I could never support anyone running for office who undermines the foundations of democracy. I don’t support a Congress that won’t call for a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee. I oppose gerrymandering which underlies many of our political problems, and I don’t support a presidential nominee who incites violence, demeans citizens, questions the electoral process, and puts his ego ahead of everything else.
Tomorrow, the name of the president will be known. We need to do our best to work with whoever is elected and figure out how to make our democracy great again.