Confessions of a Lifelong Democrat
I became a political junkie in 1960, at the tender age of 7, when I watched the presidential debate between a young, handsome, confident John F. Kennedy and an older, pinched, sweating Richard M. Nixon. I watched the debate from my little TV chair in my grandparents’ dining room. I was probably just parroting my family when I declared that Kennedy won that debate. However, as the presidency of Kennedy unfolded, I claimed him as my president, reading all I could about him politically (Profiles in Courage) and personally (the PT-109 story; magazine articles about Jackie Kennedy’s fashion sense, the loss of her last child, Patrick; stories about the Kennedy family history, etc.). I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race, and all the other events that marked that era, culminating in the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, when I was 10 years old. I lived through the ensuing presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, including the Civil Rights legislation, The War on Poverty, and the Vietnam War, as well as all the presidencies and issues that followed.
My girlhood interest in politics reached its peak when Robert F. Kennedy ran for president in 1968. I was 15 then, and I even worked in Kennedy’s Baltimore campaign office, stuffing envelopes with campaign literature. But the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and, 2 months earlier, Martin Luther King, Jr., ended my faith in presidential politics for a long time. In my thinking, at least, I adopted counter-culture values of the Flower Children, on the one hand, and the Black Power Movement, on the other.
After awhile, I supported other Democratic presidential campaigns, including those of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
But it really wasn’t until Barack Obama first ran for the office in 2008 that I regained that girlhood fervor of belief in and passion for a presidential candidate/campaign. As with John and Robert Kennedy, I read everything I could get my hands on about Barack Obama. I watched the contentious primary rivalry between Obama and Hillary Clinton, saw how Clinton mocked Obama as a pie-in-the-sky dreamer (a tactic she repeated this year in her run against my unlikely hero, Bernie Sanders), and decided that I could not support Hillary this year. Until it became obvious that Sanders’ improbable, yet amazing run—from a little known Senator from Vermont to the leader of a Political Revolution that recalled values I espoused as a 1960s teenager, was over. I resolved to be a good Democrat and vote for Hillary. I could not, in good conscience, sit this one out. Not with an opponent like Donald Trump as the alternative.
Something else happened this year, in my 2016 political journey. Earlier this year, I read an important, yet in some ways, already dated book by Joy-Ann Ried, a political analyst hero of mine, called Fracture: Barack Obama, The Clintons, and The Racial Divide.
The biggest strength of this book is its tracing of the history of both the Democratic and Republican parties, especially its description and analysis of the reversal of the parties’ basic values. In the early 20th century, the Republican Party truly was the “Party of Lincoln,” to the point where many Black people—including my grandmother—were Republicans! It was not until later that the Democratic Party became the more “progressive” party and the Republicans regressed to the party of “No.”
But the most eye-opening and disillusioning aspect of this book was its examination of the back-room, behind-the-scenes deal-making between Obama and the Clintons, not to mention such activities in the larger political world, that disabused me of my purist devotion to Barack Obama’s presidency. That is to say, I finally began to understand that at a basic level, politics really is the art of the deal and that idealism must take a backseat to pragmatism.
How else are we to explain President Obama’s selection of then-Senator Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, after such an “ugly” campaign in 2008?
And yet, I still believed in the promise of an Obama presidency, and I believed that Bernie Sanders was the more ideologically pure successor to the Obama legacy.
So, I awaited this week’s Democratic Convention with little enthusiasm and not much hope.
However, I have to admit that on Monday night, the “prime-time” speeches by Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama, and finally, Bernie Sanders gave me a sliver of hope that my Party could unite behind Hillary Clinton. My hope grew yesterday after I saw the roll-call vote and the acclimation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for President.
This past night, I was entranced by former President Bill Clinton’s personal story of his life with Mrs. Clinton. And unlike my other favorite political commentator, Rachel Maddow, I was neither alarmed nor shocked by Clinton’s long description of his courtship of “a girl” from Illinois and the early years of their marriage. For me, those details were the missing link in the narrative of who Hillary Clinton really is. I think it’s a generational thing, since I am closer in age and experience to the Clintons than I am to Ms. Maddow—I was a college student when the Clintons, then in law school, first met. So I could really relate to his story, and I could appreciate the early efforts by Hillary to “make things better.” After all, that was a hallmark of our generation. It was the era in which young women were going out into the world independently in a way that hadn’t been done before—it was the Feminist era, for Pete’s sake! (And in that spirit, I was then a student at an all-women’s college, which in itself was a big deal in the early 1970s!) So, in my opinion, Bill Clinton gave one of the best speeches he has ever given; he convinced me to give Hillary a chance, by filling in the blanks of her personal story. And her dramatic surprise appearance, preceded by Alicia Key’s initially odd, but ultimately exciting introduction, sealed the deal for me. I will vote for Hillary in November. But my Bernie 2016 bumper sticker will stay on my car for the foreseeable future.
Coming soon: Part II of this article explores the Dark Side of this election: the threat posed by Donald Trump.