Hail to the chief.

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Tomorrow it’s time to vote.  It’s been a bizarre, even frightening campaign for the next President.  The outcome is a toss up; the consequences possibly nasty.  I’m 69 years old.  There have been twelve Presidents in my lifetime.

I’m a Harry Truman baby.  He became President when Franklin D. Roosevelt died in his unprecendented fourth term.  In 1948 Truman, a Democrat, from Independence, MO ran against Thomas Dewey from NY.  I don’t need to emphasize that I don’t recall anything firsthand about the campaign or Truman.  History  books document other names I recognize, Storm Thurmond (Southern Conservative), Henry Wallace (Progressive) and Norman Thomas (Socialist) — they all ran as Third party candidates.  So did Edward Teichert (Socialist Labor) but I never heard of him.

As a student of media and photography. I have seen many times the Chicago Tribune  newspaper headline declaring Dewey the winner.  Harry held a copy high.

“The paper relied on its veteran Washington correspondent and political analyst Arthur Sears Henning, who had predicted the winner in four out of five presidential contests in the past 20 years. Conventional wisdom, supported by polls, was almost unanimous that a Dewey presidency was “inevitable”, and that the New York governor would win the election handily. The first (one-star) edition of the Tribune therefore went to press with the banner headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”.”

I also remember from history books, Truman’s desk sign, “The Buck Stops Here.”  Honest, small town kind of guy.  Most importantly I’ve thought about and taught lessons related to Truman’s decision to drop the atom bomb on Japan.  I’m not sure I or the history books have a definitive ruling on whether he made the right decision.

In 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President,  Richard Nixon was his Vice President.  I was five years old.  Ike was a war hero who accepted the Republican offer.  His Democratic opponent was Adlai Stevenson.  Stevenson was known (maybe some puff) as a liberal and intellectual.  When we toured the Eisenhower farm in Gettysburg a few years ago, we learned that Ike read western novels and ate TV dinners on a small porch.  I seem to remember as a kid (he served two terms), thinking of Eisenhower as a grandfather-President.

It was during these years that Andy, one of my best friend’s father took us to John Birch Society and other right wing meetings.  Dr. Vince Romano was textbook.  A successful, small town, Catholic doctor, father of maybe a dozen kids.  Conservative to the core, obsessed with Communism, probably abortions and homosexuals (although both topics would have been taboo).  But I really appreciate how Dr. Romano exposed me to hard work (rebuilding the stone wall on their Riverfront home), political issues and bird banding — monthly trips to a banding station in Washington Crossing State Park.  Ironically in 1964, my first year in college, I was a member of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a Romano legacy, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a Boston opportunity.  I do wish I had some of the pulp novels published and circulated by the far right at that time — great drama — and then the classic “None Dare Call it Treason.”

The election that stoked my political consciousness was 1960.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Massachuttes Democrat) ran against Richard Nixon (California Republican).     Kennedy was Catholic; I went to a Catholic elementary school.  Guess who I supported?  Andy Romano and I made several trips to a Kennedy field office on Otter Street (collecting buttons and other campaign material).  I still have some of those buttons.

On October 16,  1960 Andy and I rode our bikes up Radcliffe Street, through Tullytown to the Levittown Shopping Center.  We waited and waited.  Finally the motorcade arrived.  Kennedy spoke:

“I come here today as the standard bearer for the Democratic Party in this most important election. Actually, there have been many significant elections in the history of this country, and it is my hope that as a result of this campaign, as a result of our efforts, that the people of this country, all of them, Republicans and Democrats, will come as a result of our effort of the last few months to some definite conclusions about what our country must do. I believe if this election is to serve a national purpose, the best purpose it can serve is to inform our people, not of all the things that are good about our country, because we know there are many things that are good about our country but the things that we must do if we are going to maintain our country’s freedom.”

The text of the speech is interesting to read today, the Cold War,  education, social programs.  He concluded:

“I come here today, on a cold and windy Sunday, and ask your help in this campaign. I ask you to join us, to give us your hand, your voice, your support, join us in moving our country forward, join us in trying to do for this country what needs to be done if it is going to maintain its position in the world, if it is going to move ahead. Join us in moving America again. Thank you.”   Sound familiar.

I’ll admit.  I’m a Kennedy Democrat (most of the time).  JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you,” images of  sailing on  Cape Cod, John and Caroline in the White House, yes, for me and I believe many of  my generation, this was Camelot.  And then the unthinkable.  Dallas.  Assassination.  November 22, 1963.

The Kennedy memory and legacy is complex.  Bay of Pigs, increase presence in Vietnam Nam, foot dragging on Civil Rights,  Cuban missile crisis. Later we learn obout personal issues.  Diane and I would graduate and join the Peace Corps.

I was in the HGP parking lot on a Friday, November 22, 1963.    We were organizing for a dance.  “We interrupt this program,for a tragic news bulletin.  The President has been shot. I repeat President Kennedy . . .”  We were brought to the HGP chapel and the reality of what had happened began to sink in. Then there was the shooting of Oswald on national TV and the photograph of Johnson with Jackie  Kennedy being sworn in on Air Force One.  Mother and Father drove to DC with friends and joined the long line paying their respects to the President and his family in the Capital rotunda.  With my sisters, I was glued to the TV all night looking for our parents.

Lyndon B. Johnson.  A sad presidency.  A Southerner, Texan, skilled Congressman, in the shadows of Harvard educated, Mass, Kennedys.  Johnson fought for Civil Rights but was strangled by the Vietnam War.  In 1964, he  runs for a full term.  His running mate is Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesota liberal. Republicans, led by the Conservative wing, anoint Barry Goldwater from Arizona.  I’ll admit I was intrigued by Goldwater.  I read “Conscience of a Conservative.”  Individualism and freedom from government intervention struck a chord, but I was wary of the extreme anti-communism.  The John Birch Society, Young American for Freedom rhetoric that I’d learned about thanks to Doc Romano had turned me off.  If I could have voted,  it would have been Johnson.

However by 1965, Johnson was the enemy.  His Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, came to Boston College to speak.  There were lines of protesters and another line of BC “jocks” screaming “get off our campus.”  I stood with a small group of Freshman. This was our campus.  We wipped out our student IDs and joined the protesters.  BC security didn’t care, we were swept off campus with the protesters.  Off campus we got together and established contacts with Harvard and Boston University chapters of SDS.

Back on the BC campus we helped establish an SDS chapter.  Despite my political naiveté, I was elected secretary of the chapter.  One reason was that a small group of juniors and seniors, political science majors, had already had scuffles with the school administration and wanted a low profile.   I believe that they were  the organizers of the food riot that forced a change in food service and showed us that collective action could achieve results.  Power to the people!!

In retrospect, I feel sorry for Lyndon Johnson.  But maybe I should reserve judgement until I read his multi-volume biography written by Robert Caro.  The war dragged on, more and more politicians began to join the anti-war movement. More Democrats turned anti-war and anti-Johnson.  Lyndon eventually decided not to run for a second term.

1968,  enter center stage, Gene McCarthy, an anti-war candidate.  Clean up for Gene was the cry (it meant cut your hair, shave, and change clothes).  I recall going to a rally in Madison Square Garden.  But McCarthy was too much for most older Democrats.  Robert Kennedy entered the race but was assissinated.   The party  went with the more traditional liberal team of Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie.  Republicans reached back and found Richard Nixon with running mate Spiro Agnew from Maryland.  Footnote: George Wallace (Southern racist) and Curtis LeMay ran on the American Independent ticket.  Agree was off the wall, would fit in with today’s fringe Republicans.

Disappointed at my choices, my first Presidential vote, I voted for Humphrey.  American politics is compromise.

In 1972, the war raged on.  Nixon and Agnew carried the Republican banner again. Amazingly Democrats went with anti-war candidate George McGovern from South Dakota.   I didn’t get real involved but  enthusiastically voted for McGovern.   Nixon won. The war ended in 1974. Finally.

And then came the Watergate scandal.  During the early 1970s Diane and I  lived in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione.  Everyday, in the afternoon, we watched the TV Watergate hearings. “Did the President know?”  Nixon knew enough and didn’t run again.  Gerald Ford became President.

In 1976 Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, Democrats,  defeat Gerald Ford and Bob Dole.  I don’t remember any interest or participation in the election. Carter seemed a nice guy but didn’t inspire me

1980, Carter and Mondale were looking for a second term.  Along comes the ex-actor, Californian Governor, Republican Ronald Reagan and his running mate George H. Bush from Texan.  Reagan had tremendous appeal to what was called Middle America. I was appalled at his conservative, self-righteous paternalism.  I was at a party in Bristol and my brother-in-law was singing the Reagan song.  I decided to register Republican to vote for the more moderate John Anderson in the Republican primary.

Reagan and Bush won in 1980 and again in 1984. Democrats Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro did little for me.  It was great seeing a woman on a national ticket but I was interested in more aggressively liberal candidates.  But the country has shifted to the right.  Conservatives were in.

In 1988 Reagan was followed by George H. W. Bush and a weak VP, Dan Quayle.  The Democrats ran Michael Dukakis (Mass) and Lloyd Bentsen.  Ron Paul emerged as a Libertarian candidate. The Republicans prevailed again.  Bush had a refinement that seemed to represent another era, my father’s candidate.  He got us in and quickly out of the Gulf War.  Democrats it seemed we’re having a difficult time finding charismatic leadership.  Other than voting, I was not involved in National elections.

Strangely, ironically, Diane would say sadly, after registering Republican to vote against Reagan, I was approached by Yardley Borough Republicans to run for Borough Council.  At the time I was active organizing a Bucks County chapter of the Sierra Club.  Club officials told me we need Republican environmentalists.  Go for it, they advised. I met Susan Taylor, another Republican council candidate.  She was a fiscal conservative with none of the social conservative beliefs that were dominating  the party.  We got along well.  I decided to run.  We won.  Two terms. We forged a strong local Republican Party.

By the 1990s, Susan and I were finished serving on borough council.  I wanted to stay involved locally.  So I became a Republican committeeman with some input on who ran for council and other county offices.  I was always proud that my partner, committee woman, Sharon Lantzy, and I  were the only Bucks County committee people that did not vote to endorse Rick Santorum in his Senate run.

In 1989, I took a sabbatical from Holy Ghost Prep to work on my dissertation. The topic was educational policy making in Pennsylvania. I spent much of a year in Harrisburg. I was living State politics. When a new State house district was formed in Bucks County, I decided to run. There were at least four candidates.  I was doing ok with committee people, my cousin, Tom, Republican County Treasurer, even said I sounded like a Republican.  But the County chairman, Harry Fawkes, wouldn’t support me.  I was a teacher, he said and supported Dave Stiles, a Lower Makefield businessman.  Later I would joke that Harry probably made a good choice.  Although there was talk of an open primary, I dropped out to finish my dissertation.

George H.W. Bush was marked to be a one term President.  His challenger was Bill Clinton, Governor of Arkansas (running mate, Al Gore, Tennessee).  Ross Perot led an interesting third party bid.  1992 marked the return of a Democratic President.  Although I was happy, Clinton was from my generation, he moved much too far to the center for my politics.  In 1996, he held off Bob Dole and Jack Kemp.  Clinton’s style, working with Republicans dis lead to Welfare reform, an improved economy, no wars.

In the mid 1990s, I switched my registration to Democratic.  Harry Fawkes, Bucks County chairmen,  wasn’t listening to my recommendations for council but was supporting a true blue Yardley Republican faction.

In 2000, Clinton passed the baton to Al Gore.  I liked Gore and his VP, Joe Lieberman but I had no history of contributing or becoming involved in a national election.  As a teacher, however, I had been helping to run mock elections, invited local politicians to speak at school and took kids to DC and local rallies.  I remember seeing Clinton in Bristol one year.  Gingrich in DC.

The 2000 election was close.  There were disputes about voting in Florida.  Eventually the Supreme Court weighed in and George W. Bush with running mate Dick Chaney were declared the victors.  Republicans were back in the White House.  I was disgusted.  Much of my adult life was Republican candidates I would not support and Democrats that were uninspiring.

Bush and Cheney won a second term, defeating John Kerry (Mass) and John Edwards (NC).  Democrats seemed to constantly return to Massachuttes looking for that Kennedy replacement.  For years we vacationed in Nantucket.  Saw the Clintons there one summer and thought I was going to meet Kerry.  His wife, Theresa Heinz, had a house in town.  But I began to see her car on a dirt road with access to Nantucket sound, across the street from our rental. There were major renovations happening.  Was this going to be the summer White House?  Kerry lost the election.  Theresa Heinz responded to a letter I wrote saying a staff person was using her car.  No summer White House.  Didn’t meet Kerry.

In 2008 I got excited about a Presidential election.  Barack Obama, a Senator from Illinois, an African-American,  was the Democratic candidate.  I liked his running mate, Joe Biden, from Delaware.  Republicans chose war hero, John McCain.  He didn’t seem like a bad guy until he chose Sarah Palin from Alaska as his VP.  For me Palin marked the beginning of the take over of the Republican Party by crazies — right wing idealologues, 21st century no-nothings, anti-establishment conspiracy theorists.  I predicted then with some R friends,  the end of the Republican Party.  It could happen.

I wanted to get involved with the Obama election. I donated money several times, walked door to door in Yardley-Makefield, went to a rally at Temple and agitated among friends.  Obama seemed to represent hope and change.  He spoke as a strong liberal, not radical, but progressive.  When he won, I went to the inauguration with Dan Ryan.  Now to see some change in Washington.

Unfortunately, Republicans blocked Obama time and time again.  There wasn’t any bi-partisan cooperation, no compromise.  An important part of our democracy.  At times Obama’s liberalism receded as he attempted to court Republican support.  I don’t think there is any question that some of the antagonism was pure racism.  A black guy in the White House.  His birth as an American, his religion, and loyalty to the country were all challenged.  I became annoyed but didn’t blame him.  Republicans had become fully obstructionist.

In 2012 Obama and Biden faced Mitt Romney (Mass) and Paul Ryan (Wis).  Romney seemed to represent the end of old guard Republicans.  A businessman out of touch with much of the country.  Ryan was his nod to the conservative base.  A surprise to many, Obama won a second term. The Senate and House controlled by Republicans. Again I tried to be involved.

Republicans continued to resist anything Obama suggested.  Strongest was their opposition to tha Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, which addressed the millions of Americans without health insurance. The law has problems but it wasn’t a government take over of health care.  It was an attempt to help people get insurance, not be punished by a pre-existing condition, ideally contain costs.  Like any major piece of social legislation, there is need for changes.  But instead of  working for change or compromise, Republicans tried again and again to repeal.  A waste of time and energy.  Many issues followed this pattern, even the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice.

And now — tomorrow — November 8, 2016.  We will hopefully end what may be the sickest Presidential campaign in US history.  And there have been some pretty down and dirty campaigns.

Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, NY Senator, Secretary of State in the Obama administration was awarded the Democratic spot.  She faced a strong challenge by a real liberal-socialist, Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Senator.  As strong as he was, I thought it was always doubtful the country would support someone as far left as Sanders. Although I voted for him, I was not active in his campaign and a bit annoyed at myself that I wasn’t.   And I don’t blame my year in surgery.

Hillary Clinton carries a lot of unfortunate baggage.  For some, just as Obama is Black; Clinton is a woman.  Doesn’t belong in the White House.  As I previously mentioned I never liked the Clintons a lot.  As critics say, too tied to big business, rationalists, pragmatists.  Bill can be charming; Hillary is loyal.  But I understand some distrust.  That is not to say I accept or understand the paranoia.  The number of conspiracy theories, exaggerations, mountains out of molehills her critics  have built are amazing.  Yes she is part of the establishment but not a criminal, murderer, witch or devil.  Little has been said of her VP, Tim Kaine from Virginia.

After what has to be the craziest collection of primary candidates in history, the Republicans emerged with business tycoon, Donald Trump as the front runner.  Wow.  In the beginning there were 17 candidates.  A few were mainstream, Jeb Bush, John Kasich.  Marco Rubio and Chris Christie “seemed” normal.  Cruz, the ultimate conservative ideologue.  But then Walker, Perry, Paul, Fiorina, Huckabee, Santorum, and Dr. Carson.  Give me a break.  These are not Presidents.

But the party picked the most unlikely President, Donald Trump.  There has been some much written about him, I’ve read so many articles, reviewed the list of outrageous comments and crazy, unproductive policies.  I thought about 35% of the country would get behind Trump.  And I still believe-hope that’s about it for his core supporters, the believers.  There is another percentage, however, dissatisfied with Washington, distrustful of the establishment, of Clinton.  We will soon know the size of this group.

For months I’ve expressed my disgust with Trump in conversations, Facebook posts, several rants, and a blog post.  The purpose was primarily carthetic.  It made me feel better — primal scream kind of thing.  I’ve also tried to encourage voting.  I think I understand why the KKK, white supremacists, racists, sexists, conspiracy theorists, anti-Muslin, xenophobic, anti-semetics support Trump.  I’ve tried to understand why some normal, regular working people do.

I am not at all pleased with this election.  And I do believe it could get worse.  Whoever wins tomorrow, it’s time to find a better path.  I’d like a more wholesome debate and personally a more committed  involvement.  We can’t repeat 2016.  Your thoughts.

 
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Presidents

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November 22, 1963, Dallas, Texas.  Fifty- two years ago.  I was a Junior in high school,  in the HGP field house, planning for a dance.  Someone was listening to a car radio, “The President has been shot.”  Within the hour, we were in the Cornwells chapel, community prayer, disbelief, speechless.  President John F Kennedy had been assassinated.

November 22, 2015, I read through the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times. I don’t see one article related to that day in Dallas.  I see no mention of John Kennedy.  Like Pearl Harbor, September 11,  those “of age” in November, 1963 will never forget.

My first real exposure to Kennedy was a rally at the Levittown Shopping Center.  Andy Romano and I rode our bikes up through Tullytown to the crowded shopping center.  A motorcade arrived on Route 13; Kennedy addressed the crowd.  I don’t remember what he said; I remember the excitement of hearing him. I was committed. Andy and I were already collecting buttons and bumper stickers.  I remember a campaign headquarters in a storefront at Otter and Bath Streets in Bristol.

Kennedy was young.  He was Catholic. He was educated.  He had class.  He had, we learned a new word, charisma.    He was our candidate and would be our President.

For the past few weeks, I have been watching The Presidents series,  PBS American Experience.  I started with Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson, and last night was finishing up John Kennedy.  Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt are also part of the series.

The programs are all over 2 hours.  Some close to 4.  It’s interesting how time puts  A Presidents legacy in  a historical perspective.  Reagan was more than the smooth talking, conservative, B grade actor, I remember. Johnson was more than the evil architect of the Vietnam Nam war.  Nixon (hard to admit) more than the paranoid, sneaky, father of Watergate.  Carter more than the fumbling, well meaning failure.  Bush more than the aristocratic friend of wealth and big business.   My recollections, based on my experiences and biases are limited.

And then there is the current Presidential campaign. It’s not too hard to see a President Hillary Clinton, first woman, typical political background, experience in government.  That not to discount those that have a very strong dislike for her.  Bernie Sanders may do well with liberals who haven’t had a champion in recent years but it’s hard to see him winning nationally.  And then there are the Republicans (should I refrain from saying circus).  Bush, Rubio, even Christie seem normal political types.  But then we have the far right wing and the outsiders.  It’s hard to see any of the in a future segment of American Experience, Presidents.

Stay tuned.

Despite his mistakes.  Despite his  hawkish approach to Vietnam and his foot dragging on Civil RIghts.  And  despite his  limited time in office, Kennedy remains my favorite President. Someone in the American Experience documentary said, Kennedy realized the power of words.  “Ask not what your country can do for you . . . ”  how many inaugural speeches can you quote. “Let us never negotiate out of fear . . . ”   And quoting Shaw, “Some people see things as they are and say why . . .”  If you don’t automatically finish these quotes, take some time and look them up.

Kennedy offered hope to a young generation that wanted to believe they could change the world.  He offered the promise of a new dynamic American culture.  Obama’s offered a similar flag of hope and renewal but was consistently blocked by his opposition.  Kennedy took command and his message was heard.  It’s almost ironic that he  inspired many who would fight for Civil Rights and an end the Vietnam war.

He left a legacy of we can.

 

 

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