My parents were life-long Democrats although they never spoke about politics very often. My mother would sometimes mention FDR and how the first thing he did when he took office was to close the banks, though I could never understand (this was when I was under ten years of age) how that was supposed to have stopped the Great Depression. She also spoke admiringly of how he was elected a total of four times. But it was rare that she spoke about him; mostly she just didn’t mention politics.
Both my parents took voting seriously, and as far as I know they voted in every election that they could.
In 1956 when I was seven years old, they took me along to the polling place in Womelsdorf, and I was given some sort of sample ballot where I could place my “vote”. I don’t remember who I voted for, but it must have been for Eisenhower, because I remember my parents were upset (in a lighthearted way) that I had voted for the “wrong” candidate.
A year or so later we were living in Richland, and I remember a bunch of kids talking about Democrats and Republicans, and while I wasn’t quite clear on just what political parties were, it was pretty clear that all the kids (or most of them anyway) considered themselves Republicans, so to fit in as one of the gang, I considered myself a Republican too. Whatever that was.
When the election of 1960 came around, I was 11 years old and just sort of beginning to follow the news a bit more seriously. I knew Richard Nixon, as he had been in the news quite a bit, and I knew he was a Republican, but I also knew that my mother really loathed Nixon. Something to do with red baiting checkers with the pumpkin papers. I wasn’t really clear on that.
But my cousin Barbara and I talked about Kennedy and Nixon, and she helped convince me that Nixon’s the one, although this was eight years before Nixon actually was the one.
It probably wasn’t until 1964 that I took presidential politics seriously. That was the year that I found myself practically the only person in Richland who was supporting Barry Goldwater.
But this time there was some genuine conviction behind my position. My cousin Kathy and I had both supported Goldwater going into the Republican convention and we were elated that he got the nomination.
It was the one and only time in my life that I actually campaigned for a candidate. It didn’t amount to a whole lot. My friend Randy Klopp’s uncle Ray Bollinger was some big Poobah in the Republican Party, so he got us to distribute door knockers throughout the town. My parents were furious.
And it was to no avail. It was the only time in history that the Republican presidential candidate lost the vote in Richland.
When 1968 came along, things were no longer so clear cut. I had long since lost my any respect for Nixon; I’m not sure, but I think it stemmed from his sore loser speech after losing the gubernatorial contest in California. But I wasn’t really thrilled with the Democratic choice either, especially after the disastrous Chicago convention.
I couldn’t yet vote, so it didn’t really matter.
But I could vote in 1972. And after I registered to vote, I received a call from Randy.
“Ray saw that you registered to vote, but you didn’t resister as a Republican, and he wanted to know why.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. Was Big Brother in the form of Randy’s uncle Ray Bollinger watching me?
I explained that I didn’t really like Nixon but I didn’t think of myself as a Democrat, so I had registered as an Independent.
“Well, I guess that’s OK then,” said Randy. I didn’t tell him that I didn’t care whether he and Ray thought it was OK or not.
Now 1972 was the year that the Democrats had George McGovern. And I really liked McGovern.
More than I had liked any preceding candidate ever before. He actually seemed to reflect my values in a way that no other politician had ever done. I was devastated by his loss.
For the rest of the 70s I remained an Independent in my voter registration, but when I moved to Philadelphia in 1980, I was faced with a problem. The city was 99% Democratic. Well, OK, not quite that that high. Maybe more like 75% or so. The point being that the primary election was where the action was. So I decided to register as a Democrat if I wanted to be able to vote in the primaries.
This leaves one question.
How did someone who was a gung ho Goldwater supporter in 1964 transform into a dyed in the wool McGovern supporter in 1972? You might ask the same question of Hillary Rodham Clinton, as she went through the same transformation.
But I at least can offer something of an answer for myself.