Since starting this blog, I've avoided politics. I will in the future, probably, but today's the right time to think about politics during my past four decades.
I was too young to vote in the 1968 election, but it was my first immersion into politics (other than passing out literature in my mid-teens for New Jersey Democrats Frank Thompson and Pete Williams, both later swept up in the ABSCAM scandal and helping Sam Alito win our student government presidency - bad move if one believes in the butterfly effect). I was one of the legion of college students canvassing New Brunswick and environs for the right to vote for 18-year-olds. We won.
1972 found me in the newsroom of the Burlington County Times, eating pizza and waiting for the results of the Nixon-McGovern race. Nixon won, and the rest of us lost. In January, I spent a very cold day on the National Mall in Washington photographing protests against Nixon for my paper. I still have shots of the "mythical creature for peace" and the middle-aged woman screaming at some young protesters.
Two years later, I was in Richmond, Virginia, for four years in the capital of the Confederacy. I remember nothing about Governor Mills Godwin or for whom I voted for any office. Except for Carter in 1976, to some extent influenced by a co-worker from Georgia (as the joke went, every state has two senators, except Georgia, which has Nunn). I think, perhaps, I was gobsmacked by the prospect of rampant Republicanism for the first time - even though I had voted for Republican Sen. Clifford Case while living in Jersey.
1980, my sixth year of working for the Army, the year I met my wife. The year Reagan won. I was living in Maryland, enjoying being back in Democratic country. Carter, of course, got creamed. But I voted for the two successful senators, splitting my ballot for Paul Sarbanes and Charles Mathias, one of the then-standout moderate Republicans. Four years later, I again voted for Sarbanes and Mathias and again lost in the presidential race. In my last Maryland election, 1988, I helped bring in Barbara Mikulski and, again, lost in the presidential contest, backing the Duke against Poppy Bush.
I began calling Wyoming home in 1989, and voted there for the first time in 1990. Wyoming is a curious state, small enough to know the politicians personally, conservative enough to know that Democrats were eastern-moderate Republicans. I voted for the young guy from Arkansas for president, Gov. Mike Sullivan (D), whom I knew well and liked a lot, and Al Simpson (R), the brother of my immediate supervisor, Pete Simpson, and a stand-up guy in his own right. But, I just couldn't bring myself to vote for the late Craig Thomas, whom I also knew. Let's leave it there. I never did vote for him or his imbicilic successor, Barbara Cubin; for the first time in my life I registered Republican to try to eliminate her in the primary, but no such luck. I continued to vote for Big Al until his retirement in 1997, despite his shameful performance in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing. All politics is local, especially when you know and personally like a candidate. I voted for Mike Sullivan for Senate, then watched him fly off to be Bill Clinton's ambassador to Ireland. Dave Freudenthal, the last governor for whom I voted in Wyoming turned out to be an ego-driven disappointment, but better than the personality-purged Jim Geringer.
In 2007, I moved briefly to Washington State. As the results from my first Inland Northwest election came in, I was lying in a hospital bed in Coeur d'Alene in the early stages of recovery from sepsis, the result of complications from exploratory surgery. Karen tells me I was on so much pain medication I kept asking her about the election returns. But, I do remember watching an Obama commercial pairing scenes of economic hardship in America to the music of Paul Simon's "American Tune." I was overcome by emotion - and pain medication - as Barack Obama was elected president. I felt validation for the first bumper sticker I'd ever affixed to my car, as well as for the mail-in ballot I'd sent in prior to my hospitalization.
During the next four years, Karen and I became habitues of MSNBC and network news, tracking the president's progress along with the nation's. Yes, we told ourselves, we were better off than we were in 2008. I was alive, though at the cost of outrageous medical insurance premiums. Now, living in Idaho, we, again, voted for President Obama, and again made a contribution to his campaign, and yesterday we watched election returns from our new home. We still felt better off than we were four years ago. And, today, we feel a sense of calm that eased the tension of the past year. Good luck, Barack. Goodbye, Mitt.
Karen waxes nostalgic for the Democratic hero of her youth - Frank Church. Idaho also produced Cecil Andrus, a pioneer in environmental protection. I fear we'll never see their like again in the Gem State.
Four years from now seems like a lifetime away..