My first clear memory of a presidential election was when I was in the fifth grade and John Kennedy was running against incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon. It wasn’t the politics that caught my attention; it was his wife. Like most fifth-grade girls, I was enamored with graceful Jackie Kennedy. There also seemed to be a lot of talk about their Catholic religion. My mother’s religion, which I inherited, taught me that all governments were agents of Satan the Devil, so we gave little attention to their inner workings.
My source of “outside” information in elementary school was Weekly Reader, Paul Harvey News and Comments (every noon at home during school lunch hour), and, when we got our first TV, Walter Cronkite’s Evening News (“And that’s the way it is…”). During the early Kennedy years, we were afraid of a nuclear war. Part of our curriculum included duck-and-cover bomb drills where we would respond to a warning siren and crawl under our desks. Then in eighth grade, while walking back to Lincoln Junior High, I learned that President Kennedy had been shot. Shortly thereafter while sitting in Miss Micken’s science class, we all learned that he had died. Shocked, only quiet sobbing could be heard in the silent vacuum of disbelief.
What I knew about the Lyndon Johnson administration was the Civil Rights Act and the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon was about the draft and continuation of the abominable war, the gas shortage, and Watergate (“expletive deleted”). Gerald Ford replaced a disgraced Spiro Agnew as Vice President and became President when Nixon resigned with his signature two-fisted peace sign. He pardoned Nixon and served only 895 days in the office.
Jimmy Carter was a Georgia peanut farmer, a seemingly humble man who could not seem to resolve the Iran hostage crisis. He signed pardons for tens of thousands of Vietnam War draft evaders. Along came Reagan and mortgage interest rates over 18%. He told Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this (Berlin) wall.” George H.W. Bush presided over Operation Desert Storm; friendly fire killed 24% of U.S. troops who died in battle.
The first time I ever voted was in 1996 after coming into my own view of the world. However, still skeptical that any man could do the “right thing” once caught in the political machine, I voted for Ralph Nader for his consumer advocacy. As I became more aware of the political landscape, I saw the scandals (Monica Lewinsky) and lies (WMDs) of the Clinton and Bush presidencies. Obama’s eight years were without scandal and many expressions of compassion (i.e., “Amazing Grace” in Charleston and “thoughts and prayers are not enough” after Roseburg, Oregon, mass shooting). Now this.
After ruminating over my personal history and memories of presidents, I concluded that what I know for sure is that a healthy, thriving society is unsustainable unless all human beings are treated with respect, dignity, compassion and honesty and our beautiful living planet is protected and preserved. That is my hope for the future.