February 12, 2005

THE STORY SO FAR (PART X)...

Concluded...

If you've stumbled upon this post looking for that long sordid tale of how I got here, congratulations. The bad news is that you've got a lot of reading to do (but for your convenience, I've put the links to the prior chapters below). You can go back to any previous posts here:

Part IX

Part VIII

Part VII

Part VI

Part V

Part IV

Part III

Part II

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------

And now...the rest of the story (apologies to Paul Harvey):

9/11/01 and beyond:

September 11, 2001 (my 8th wedding anniversary, BTW) was a day that was one of those moments in history that causes a tectonic shift in the destiny of a nation. The United States faced this kind of crisis at least four times in its history.

  • April 20, 1775 - British march on Lexington and Concord, MA
  • April 12, 1861 - Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, SC
  • December 7, 1941 - Bombing of Pearl Harbor, HI
  • October 18 - 29, 1962 - the Cuban Missile Crisis

In each case, the nation was staring down two distinct and separate paths that had been placed before it. One led to victory, the other to utter ruin. In each case, the correct path was chosen. And in each case, the nation - either through pure luck or Divine Providence - was led by a man who had the courage, the wisdom and the conviction of his principles to make the right choice.

  • George Washington
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • John Kennedy

Whether these situations required a series of choices that were made over several years - as in WashingtonÂ’s case - or decisive action over the course of days - as with Kennedy, each of these men looked into their hearts and their souls to bear the responsibility that would drastically determine the very future of the people they led.

These were leaders in the true sense of the word. Whether the qualities that these men possessed in innate or learned, it is clear that for each of them it was at least instinctive because they didnÂ’t have time for navel-gazing and indecision.

IÂ’m not saying that George W. Bush ranks up with the greatest Presidents - historians will look back a hundred years from now and make itÂ’s evaluations in the proper context. But from what I see, Bush at least has demonstrated the qualities that those individuals possessed as they found themselves poised at such important cross roads in U.S. history.

ItÂ’s been more than three years since that day and while so many of the memories are etched into my mind, what I can recall today is more akin to fleeting emotions than distinct images. We all have our recollections about that moment and the days that followed, but IÂ’m willing to bet they are no more unique than the other 280 million Americans who wondered if they had really woken up that day - of if it was all just a bad dream.

The most important observation I have made since that day is that the Democratic Party no longer stands for anything. It was merely weeks after the attack that members of Congress who represented the party symbolized by the donkey - the jackass - began to wage the kind of political war that is usually reserved for peacetime. The stakes for the future of our nation - and of the world - are too high for this kind of bullshit. If the Democrats are so obsessed with regaining the power that they so wantonly squandered then they need to be exposed for their efforts every step of the way.

In the last few years the MSM has lost its grip on the stranglehold they once had on the information dolled out to the public. The new media - radio, cable TV and the internet have blown away the old template for disseminating information. The power of the blogosphere is awesome. Just ask Dan Rather, John Kerry or Eason Jordan.

ItÂ’s the power of the internet that allows simple folk from various backgrounds and expertise to find, research and share information. ItÂ’s also that power that allows someone like me to share his ideas, whether they be read by a million people or only the writer himself. I live in a "Blue State". And itÂ’s mighty tough to find people of similar philosophy. But thatÂ’s OK. I like where I live and IÂ’m happy here. But IÂ’m not going to feel like an outsider just because my point of view isnÂ’t necessarily shared by the majority of my neighbors. The world is a big place and neither time nor distance are a factor in finding a receptive audience to the opinions I have to share.

IÂ’m not the kind of person who looks for conflict or argument. I hear statements every day that I not only disagree with but I sometimes even find offensive. But I have a perspective to share. I understand what itÂ’s like to be a Democrat. I understand what it feels like to be angry, and maybe a little bitter that the opposing team is calling the shots. I know whatÂ’s like to put a ton of faith and hope in a candidate - even a cause - and watch them lose in a way that can only seem unfair.

However, I have watched people take these emotions too far. I have seen people become unhinged because they are more interested in the outcome of an election - or the reacquisition of their power - than they are in the future of their country. I am watching day after day a political party that I once called my own collapse onto itself because it has been taken over by extremists whose only creed is "kill or be killed". No compromise, no middle ground, no surrender - all ideology and no ideas. NO VISION. They have ceded the identification as "the party of reform" to the GOP and can now only be associated with dependence on government and special interests, obstructionism and maintaining the status quo.

I do not take relish in this destructive process though I admit to taking some amusement in it. That is why this Blog is called Ex-Donkey. Like an expatriate, an ex-Communist or an ex-junkie, my experiences have helped create who I am today, having accumulated an imposing stack of lessons learned. I understand the current opposition all too well and how they got to where they are now. I also can see where they are going. And itÂ’s not a pretty sight.

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February 10, 2005

THE STORY SO FAR (PART IX)...

Prior chapters linked below:

Part VIII

Part VII

Part VI

Part V

Part IV

Part III

Part II

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------

Now about this time (summer 2000), John McCain was out and Dubya was in, at least unofficially until the convention. So I took the opportunity to find out as much as I could about George W. Bush.

I new there were lots of biographies out there, most of which were filled with rumor and innuendo from his wilder days. So I went right to an author who lived in Texas and had covered him for years, Bill Minutaglio. I found his book, First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty, not only full of information about the candidate but also about his family going back to old Sen. Prescott Bush of CT. It was a fair account of his life, perhaps a little soft around the edges, but a good read. And one that I recommend. Then I went to his autobiography, A Charge To Keep. Like all autobios it glossed over a lot of the negative aspects of his life, but it gave me a bit more insight into the man.

At that point I kind of got obsessed with the new media: talk radio, right-leaning periodicals, conservative or Republican websites. I did a lot of reading, and a lot of thinking. Some things I didn't quite agree with, but most of it really made a lot of sense and at the very least helped reinforce the idea that I was never a liberal. Sure I took the Democrat position in a knee-jerk way without really thinking about it. And most of the time, that was the liberal view. But I never identified with the left-of-center ideology that had taken hold of the party over the last thirty-five or forty years.

But I digress.

So I identified W as the guy I would support. First came the conventions, then the debates, then the home stretch. The more I saw of Bush, the more I liked him both as a candidate for President and as a person. The Gore team hammered at the same old tactics. Al Gore made my skin crawl. And it was painfully obvious that he was not a man who was comfortable in his own skin. He changed his persona over and over, desperately trying to reinvent himself as someone the voters could get excited about.

Anyway, I never doubted that Bush was the better man for the job. And as the Democrats attacked him viciously and personally. Democrat-supporting groups ran appalling ads that distorted his record as Governor. One ad even suggested that because Bush didn't support "hate-crimes" legislation in Texas that should be equated with the two scumbags that had beaten a black man named James Byrd and dragged him to his death with their pick-up. The NAACP paid for this ad and used James Byrd's daughter to do the voiceover to give it a more personal touch. Forget that the guys in question were convicted at trial and received the ultimate penalty - the death penalty - which was enforced by that same Governor Bush.

Anyway, the campaign was long and grueling and Bush was in pretty good shape when FoxNews broke a story the Thursday before the election that Bush had been pulled over for a DUI in Maine thirty years before and supposedly was given special treatment because of his family. Forget for a moment that it was pretty commonplace in the 1970's for a police officer anywhere in the country to let a driver who appeared under the influence off with a warning and an order to go straight home. Bush had admitted to having a past he was not proud of, and made no secret that he had a problem with alcohol until he quit drinking at the age of forty. This issue - to me - was really a non-issue and a late hit that shouldn't have made any difference. But it did.

The polls tightened in those last few days and results were close. The irony is that right before election day, the Democrats feared that Gore might win the Electoral College vote (which is constitutionally how Presidents are elected) but lose the popular vote, something that has only happened a couple of times throughout American history. And his campaign put out statements that if that happened the people should understand that the Electoral College winner was the legitimate winner. But something happened on election night. Despite the fact that the MSM called Florida for Gore before the polls had even closed, Bush did win Florida and 271 total Electoral votes.

The Dems watched the returns late into the night and believed themselves that it was over. But a bunch of lawyers huddled with Gore's campaign manager and hatched an idea. I could not believe it when they reported that Gore had conceded to Bush, then called him back to retract it. What followed was thirty-four grueling days of disputes, lawsuits, rule changes and an overall disgusting display of political war. Gore's lawyers screamed that "every vote be counted" while they did everything they could to throw out as many overseas military absentee ballots that they could, as they clearly favored Bush. Al Gore, a man who sought to be the nation's Commander-In-Chief sanctioned the nullifying of votes by servicemen and women stationed around the world. I wanted to puke.

If there was ever a chance of me considering voting for a Democrat again, that chance evaporated during that whole debacle. Democrats and leftists all over the country spent the next year trying everything they could to de-legitimize Bush's Presidency. Although he won the first count, and the re-count and the re-re-count, Dems would never accept the result as valid and their anger and bitterness and resentment only continued to fester. I have never seen a President so hated by the opposition that they would reflexively deride anything he proposed or supported and even suggested.

That hatred would simmer on the left, waiting for it's next chance...in the next campaign. For revenge. It was going to be ugly. But after one beautiful sunny day in September of 2001, the hatred would go underground and hide for a while. For a brief period of weeks, the rancor over that election would subside if only for a short respite as we all sat in our homes and considered an entirely new threat. There was (or seemed to be) genuine unity in the days that followed that tragic moment.

But sadly, it didn't take long for that unity to erode and for the ugliness to crawl out from its hiding places. (To be concluded...)

Part X (the final chapter)

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February 08, 2005

THE STORY SO FAR (PART VIII)...

The grand tale continues...
Prior Chapters linked below:

Part VII

Part VI

Part V

Part IV

Part III

Part II

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------

What Next? (1999-2000):

Sometime in mid-1999 – I think it was the summertime – I was casually talking to Mrs. Gandalf about politics (one of those extremely rare occasions). Nothing too complicated, just something along the lines of speculation as to who would be running for President in 2000. Now at the time, I knew Gore would run. I’m not sure if Bradley had announced at that point yet. As for the Republicans, I had only seen brief sound bites from debates on the news.

Bush, for the most part, was a complete unknown to me – as he was with much of the rest of the country. There wasn’t anything I disliked about him, nor was there anything I particularly cared for. About all I knew of Bush was that he was Bush 41’s eldest son, the Governor of Texas, and when asked which philosopher he was most influenced by, he answered “Jesus Christ. Because He changed my heart.” And that’s about it. But although I new little OF him at that point I was able to gather that he was a pretty amiable and likable guy. However, I do remember saying to the wife that – at that very early date – I was confident enough to predict that Bush would most likely be the next President. In retrospect, I’m not exactly sure why. It could be that my old college roommate had moved to Texas and he always raved about what a fantastic Governor he was. But being a political junkie, it wasn’t crazy for me to make a call that early in the process.

I know from reading a lot about the Â’88 and Â’92 campaigns that W was kind of the black sheep of the family and he was a big help to his father during that time. In fact, as it is so often pointed out, George wasnÂ’t expected to be the successful on in politics. All eyes at the time were on his younger brother Jeb. I was attending an offsite seminar for my job during the off-year 1994 elections. There was a guy in my group from Florida and he was a big Jeb supporter. As the returns come in, he was really disappointed that his guy had lost out to Lawton Chiles for Florida Governor. The big surprise was George W. winning in Texas. I didnÂ’t even know at the time that he was running.

For the first time since 1988, I was fully prepared not to vote in a Presidential election. There was no sense of anticipation or excitement. Nothing. I was also fully in the midst of the final stretch of getting my MBA so there wasnÂ’t a lot of time anyway. Having left the Democrat party, I didnÂ’t really have a horse in the race, so to speak. By the time January 2000 came about, Bush was pretty much seen as the front-runner and the only other candidate that seemed to have a shot at the nomination was AZ Senator John McCain. And it is because of McCain that I am a Republican today.

McCain ran as a Reagan devotee and didn’t shy away from his conservative credentials. I admit he seems to do this more and more of just that today. I actually got excited about McCain because of his energy, enthusiasm and passion. Plus, I admit, I liked his story. He was a former POW, strong on defense and had a “straight talk” approach on the campaign trail. I first began to follow McCain closely after he upset Bush in the New Hampshire primary. Of course, so had the media. They were following him around on his tour bus, like a pack of over-excited puppies. And, admittedly, it was his candor and straight-forwardness that piqued my interest. And I began to listen…

He began going after Clinton-Gore by talking about conservative ideas. I was really fascinated. I listened to him on radio shows like Imus in the Morning and television shows, anyone that broadcast him – which was pretty much everyone at that point. Suddenly, a guy that seemed a long-shot for the Republican nomination seemed to have the momentum. Of course, the party establishment who had a lot invested in Bush’s candidacy – both literally and figuratively – was not about to throw in the towel. It became a real fight.

Now, on the Democrat side, neither Gore nor Bradley interested me at all. To me, Al Gore has always been a phony. This was a man who had been running for President since he was a child, prodded on by the ghost of his father, TN Senator Al Gore, Sr. Gore was quoted as saying “He (Bush) can lose and he’ll just go back to Texas. But me? I’ll do anything to be President.” But McCain seemed to me to be the real deal. I read his biography, watched his speeches and even attended a local rally for him during just before the CT primary.

Now in Connecticut, the State GOP requires that only registered Republicans can vote in the primary. I personally agree with this requirement. Many States had open primaries but the argument against this is that anyone – including registered Democrats could influence the party’s nominee. Frankly, this is how McCain managed to win New Hampshire and several other primaries. Supporters argued that he appealed to a broader base – which was certainly true in my case – but on the other hand I don’t think it’s right that anyone other than party members should make this decision. If non-Republicans want to vote in the primary, let them register.

Which is exactly what I did. A pretty bold move for me.

On primary day, I gleefully voted for McCain and waited for the results to come in. In a nutshell, McCain won about a third of the primaries that day, mostly in the Northeast and West. But the delegate tally of that day, which was called ‘Super Tuesday’ because of the number of primaries, vaulted Bush well into the lead. It was all but over for McCain. The next step for the Senator over the next couple of weeks was to concede the rest and throw his support to Bush in a gesture of party unity. For several weeks, I was a little bitter. I knew the chances were slim but I held out hope. Then those hopes were dashed. Well, I’d been there before and over the years my skin had thickened. Now I had spent the last two months being so anti-Gore that voting for him was simply out of the question. My position now was to vote for Bush – by default – or just not to vote at all. Frankly, the latter choice was more abhorrent to me than registering with a party that I had always viewed as ‘the enemy’.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has a great stump speech he calls “Then you are a Republican.” He had the opportunity to showcase it in prime time at the 2004 GOP convention. It basically says if you stand for this or if you believe in that…then YOU are a Republican. That’s how I felt during this time. It’s like I finally understood that I had been supporting something I didn’t really believe in all these years simply because it’s what I grew up with. This was the “Great Awakening” that I experienced at this time. When I went down to the registrar’s office in my town and officially registered as a Republican, it really felt right. (no pun intended). (To be continued…)

Part IX

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February 06, 2005

THE STORY SO FAR (PART VII)...

yes, this is getting a little ridiculous. And your point?
Prior Chapters linked below:

Part VI

Part V

Part IV

Part III

Part II

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------

Attack of the Clintons (1992-1999)

At this point I wasn't paying all that much attention to politics. The first time I even heard of Bill Clinton was when he as Arkansas Governor was denying clemency for a guy on death row who was mildly retired. He was establishing his credentials as tough on crime, and - oh by the way - he was also a candidate for President. I liked his bio. Running as a "centrist" he had been propped up by the Democratic Leadership Council who decided they were tired of losing with Northern Liberals.

And here's the thing. I believed him. And not just because I wanted to. This guy was soooooo persuasive. Like a political pied piper, Clinton could draw you in and hook you. You would end up seeing exactly what your heart desired. Which is probably why he was so successful with the ladies. When the Gennifer Flowers thing broke, I figured it must be a set up. I mean, after Gary Hart's "Monkey Business" and the whole Willie Horton thing, I was pretty paranoid when it came to allegations of impropriety or scandal.

I watched the 60 Minutes interview with Bill and Hillary and that was it. If he could survive this, he could go all the way. And he did. Later I would learn a lot about the behind the scenes shenanigans during the campaign and - as a political junkie - it was really fascinating. Now, truth be told Bill Clinton owes a lot of his success to two men - Patrick Buchanan and H. Ross Perot. Beating an incumbent is no small feat. Especially one with an approval rating over 50%, which George H. W. Bush had prior to 1992.

Bush had angered a lot of his base in several ways but basically Bush was not a continuation of Reagan, which arguably was what most Republicans expected when he was elected. Buchanan, the arch-right-wing firebrand, hurt Bush severely during the primaries. Generally speaking, when an incumbent faces opposition from within the ranks this spells major trouble for him. And Buchanan was an outlet for many a GOP voters frustration, even if he really didn't have a chance in hell of getting the party's nomination. Having been bloodied in the primaries with all his weaknesses exposed like re-opened wounds, Bush limped along while he watched his approval ratings sinking. The economy had slipped into recession, and while technically speaking it was in a recovery by election day the perception the Bush was aloof and ineffective stuck.

But Buchanan's eventual defeat didn't reverse Bush's fortunes. Ross Perot came in and really threw off the dynamics of the race by emerging as a credible third candidate. Like Buchanan, he siphoned off a tremendous amount of support from Bush that ultimately sank him. Perot attacked Bush about five times as much as he went after Clinton. Perot knew it was Bush he had to beat first and foremost. Unfortunately, for Perot, his kookiness got the better of him and his star lost it's luster. And the big beneficiary was Clinton.

As with the rape question to Dukakis in 1988, Bush's fate was sealed in the debates. During the "town-hall" style debate, as Clinton was answering a question, one of the cameras caught a shot of Bush seated on his stool rather casually look at his watch. The message that hit the audience in the face was "he really didn't want to be there." Fair or not, the perception of Bush as out of touch left its taint on the President at a time when the country was searching for the leadership to fill the vacuum Reagan had left. It was over.

This was the first time I had backed a candidate and he has actually won. Of course it was only with 43% of the popular vote, due to Perot. But in the Electoral College, it looked more convincing. I was elated beyond belief. We won!! Oh, what a feeling.

Of course the feeling didn't last. Now I'm not going to chronicle the list of disappointments I had over Clinton's Presidency as that would take all week. Suffice to say that by 1996, I wasn't thrilled with him. But while my heart wasn't in it, my head told me to vote to re-elect him. First, he was the Democrat, and at the time that fact alone was still important to me. Second, I felt that not voting for him again was akin to admitting that voting for him the first time was a mistake. And I wasn't prepared to do that.

Then of course came BJ-gate.

It wasn't the fact that he was a sleaze who took advantage of a young girl and disgraced his office. If he apologized, I might have been able to forgive him. But the lies and the deceit and the obstruction - all in an attempt to try and salvage his legacy was too much. At least Hart's and Dukakis's crimes were merely being arrogant and naive. This was pathetic and sad. I'll always be proud of myself that I didn't sink to the rationalization that "it was only sex and none of anyone's business." NOT THE POINT. I was, at the time, against impeachment because I felt "what was the point". He was a lame duck anyway. I just wanted the whole humiliating saga to a merciful end.

In 1998, I moved from the central part of State back to the Southwestern part closer to where I had grown up. I went to the town hall to register to vote and decided to go unaffiliated. I just couldn't bring myself to associate myself with a party that had failed me - not just a President, but a party. I more and more found it hard to reconcile myself to its positions - which were not only drifting farther left but began to become more absolute and intolerant of dissent. Most of the issues were cut and dried as far the the Democrats were concerned, with no room for compromise or discussion. It was their way or the highway and if you had a problem with it, too bad.

I no was no longer a Democrat but I wasn't about to become a Republican. After all they had been the opposing team my whole life that would be like blasphemy. But I was thirty-one years old, married with a child, a mortgage and a boatload of responsibility. The reality of life as it really is had settled in and I began to look at the world with more grown up and less idealistic eyes. I began to feel like the time for pretending was over and time for common sense had begun. (To be continued...)

Part VIII

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THE STORY SO FAR (PART VI)...

If you came in during the middle of the movie, there's a lot of catching up to do. Prior Chapters linked below:

Part V

Part IV

Part III

Part II

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------

At this point of the narrative, I break from old writings to new ones. When I first put the parts that preceded this into a Word document I had always intended to keep the material going at the same pace. However, I think I can summarize the years between 1988 and 2000 in two simple posts. Here is the first.

The wilderness years (1989-1991):

Now I was really kind of lost. A college graduate, working as a temp for an HMO, I was a little aimless. I had made the decision not to pursue teaching for a multitude of personal reasons which I will avoid her. Ultimately, I came to work in the private sector, get married, become a father and basically grow up in every sense of the word.

I was still interested in politics, even if I felt a like being on the outside looking in. I was actually looking ahead to the next election. Surely the odds where better of changing parties in the White House after 12 years. Anyway, I started keeping a folder of "events" to kind of chronicle things as they unfolded up to 1992. I had done enough "analysis" of the last results and read every pundit's opinion and post-mortem as to what went wrong for the Democrats. Not to many in the MSM wanted to write about what went right for Bush 41. Little has changed today.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein wantonly invaded neighboring Kuwait with the goal of stealing their oil reserves and threatening Saudi Arabia with the same. What followed really struck me and began to make me take a better look at the big picture. George Bush 41 drew a literal and figurative line in the sand by assembling an international military coalition and issuing an ultimative to Saddam. You have until January 15, 1991 to get out or we'll make you. (in hindsight I find it interesting that this is the same date as the recent Iraqi elections). "This will not stand" was the big quote.

Well, damn, I was on board. You can't let thugs like this go unchallenged. So many in Europe were content to let Hitler make his agressive moves over and over and pretend that if they just let him have his way, war could be avoided. But there were some who forgot (or ignored) history. Many of them were members of my party. I was appalled as one by one, Democrat Senators took to opportunity to oppose our action. We had to be united or this wasn't going to work. I found the old maxim of Washington D.C. that "politics stops at the waters edge" was going by the wayside. I was embarrassed to be a Democrat.

Anyway, the U.S. and it's coalition partners were successful. The Iraqis were driven out of Kuwait and we had two choices that were not unlike the ones we faced in Korea in the early fifties. Choice one was containment. Choice two was to pursue the source of agression Northward and defeat it so that it would no longer be a threat. Well, today we have North Korea lining the 38th parellel with troops and armaments, still a threat to it's Southern neighbor. And at the time, we left Saddam in place trying to use sanctions to keep him in line.

Hindsight is 20/20 of course. Democrats (who controlled the Senate) barely gave its approval to engage in Desert Storm as it was, anything further was out of the question.

Over time, the furor over the war subsided, Bush 41's approval ratings began to return to a more typical level and life went on.

In late 1991, a new political force was on the horizon: The Clinton's. (To be continued...)

Part VII

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February 05, 2005

THE STORY SO FAR (PART V)...

This is a long one, so get a cup of coffee first.
Prior Chapters linked below:

Part IV

Part III

Part II

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------


THE COLLEGE YEARS (Part 3: The Fall ‘88 Campaign or "the mean season"):

Well, not only did Dukakis fail to deflect the Liberal label but he managed to play right into Team BushÂ’s hands. Three things killed Dukakis in the minds of American voters. First, at a time when the Soviet Union was falling apart and the U.S. had just gotten to feel good about itself militarily, Dukakis got into a tank at a photo op. the video tape captured this little Greek guy, in a helmet, smiling and pointing as he rode around in this big tank. He looked like a kid with a new toy. People looked at this and thought, "This guy could be the leader of the free world?"

The next issue was the famous "Willie Horton" ad. Willie Horton was a Massachusetts convict who was let out of prison on a weekend furlough. The program was actually started by the State prior to DukakisÂ’ taking office but as the current Governor he supported it. While on this weekend pass, he raped and murdered a woman in Maryland. To the voters, Dukakis was soft on crime the image of a black convict roaming free to pillage additional innocent victims scared the living hell out of them. (On a side note, the ad originated during the primaries from Al Gore's campaign.)

But what really sealed the deal for Bush was the debates. Dukakis was asked point blank about his opposition to the death penalty. Now most people in America favor the death penalty and some even accept the fact that some of those in opposition at least have a decent argument against it. However, Bernard Shaw of CNN asked (and IÂ’m paraphrasing here), "Governor, if your wife were raped and murdered would you support the death penalty for the convicted offender?" Dukakis turned to the camera without missing a beat and said almost matter-of-factly, "No Bernie I wouldnÂ’t. And IÂ’ll tell you whyÂ…" Any chance that he had of coming from behind was destroyed in that moment. Watching the debates, even I kind of knew that it was over.

But damn it, I was going to fight anyway. There actually was a good debate moment that I enjoyed. During the Vice-Presidential debate, Texas Senator Lloyd Bentson (who beat Bush for that office eighteen years earlier) squared off against Indiana Senator Dan Quayle. Quayle was fodder for the media from the beginning. With his boyish good looks and sort of vacant look on his face all the time, he a darling of conservatives but most of the electorate looked him over and considered him a lightweight. Quayle didnÂ’t help himself too much either in that he never seemed fully prepared when quizzed by reporters. When allegations came that he joined the National Guard during Vietnam to allegedly avoid the draft, he exploded.

Anyway, here we are at the debate. Anyone who was old enough will remember because they played the bit over and over and over on the news. The moderator questioned Quayle as to whether he thought he was prepared to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. Quayle composed himself and confidently that not only was he prepared experience-wise but he pointed out that John F. Kennedy was the same age when he took the oath of office. Bentson couldnÂ’t resist. On his rebuttal, he turned to Quayle and said, "Senator, I knew Jack Kennedy. I worked with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mindÂ…(and then the zinger)Â…Senator, youÂ’re no Jack Kennedy."

It was a cheap shot, but an effective one. In fact it may have been the highlight of the campaign for me, someone whose most recent political hero was Kennedy. Other Democrats loved it as well, all the while holding a quiet indignation. Who was this meathead to compare himself to St. Jack? Sheesh. Of course, the old maxim that nobody votes for the bottom of the ticket held true and it didnÂ’t have any real effect in November.

Two more pre-election memories have stayed with me. The first goes back to an experience with one of those dorky College Republicans that I alluded to earlier. Now this guy, who was a jerk, came into our dorm room one day. WeÂ’ll call him Steve. He started shooting the breeze with us and he noticed that I had taped a black and white glossy of JFK up on the wall. Now keep in mind that neither Bob nor I really thought he had more than space between his ears anyway. But he pipes up with a comment that made us wrinkly our brows. He said that if we liked Kennedy, we should like George Bush (Sr., that is). Unfortunately for Steve, he lacked the ability to articulate exactly why but his main point was that they were quite a bit alike. As far as Bob and I were concerned, we figured he must have been drinking.

Now here’s the irony. This dope actually wasn’t far from the mark. George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy had a LOT in common. Both were moderates politically. Kennedy was more conservative than a lot of Democrats – certainly by current standards and Bush was more liberal the average Republican. Both were heroes of WWII. Both grew up in well-to-do families. Both were part of political dynasties. I’m ashamed to say that at the time I didn’t even know Prescott Bush, George’s father, had been a U.S. Senator from my home state of Connecticut. Both attended Yale and lived for a time in New Haven. There are other similarities but I’m rambling. It wasn’t until recently when I read Bush’s "All The Best", a collection of his letters from throughout his life, and read biographies on George W. that I learned all of this. Funny how it triggers that memory of what I thought at the time was an absurd statement.

The other memory I have is "the rally". Yes, I attended a Dukakis rally in New Haven that fall. He did a campaign swing through the Northeast – which is an indication of how badly he was doing at the point – and Bob and I headed on over to a part of downtown that was adjacent to Yale and the famous Pepe’s Pizza Place. It was both exciting and sad. It was cool being surrounded by fellow supporters, holding signs and chanting silly things. There was this old guy who tried leading the crowd in a song. The song seemed to be half a traditional Democratic ditty and half made up as he went along. At one point the old geezer was stomping his feet, clapping his hands and singing something about Michael Dukakis being the greatest man in the world. I realized then, that I was on the fringe.

The night before this rally, Bob and I decided that instead of just sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves that we should actually go out and really get involved. We went down to the local Democratic headquarters where a bunch of young volunteers were painting signs for the rally. We offered to hang signs and bumper stickers all over the city and they were happy to stuff our hands full of campaign materials. I remember most of these volunteers being really hippy-like. Tie-dyed shirts, long hair and sandals – some were even barefoot. I didn’t feel any unity with these folks and in fact I felt a little like I didn’t really belong in that hoot-n-nanny. I think I saw a lot of these same people years later when my wife and I would go to the Ben & Jerry's Newport Folk Festival. Nevertheless, we stuck stickers everywhere, hung signs everywhere and as pathetic as it all seems now, it was kind of fun.

Now, the inevitable. Dukakis was handed a big ‘ol GOP ass-whuppin’ on Election Day. It was over before all the returns were even in. I sat in the main lounge of my dorm fuming a little. I expected to lose but this was ridiculous. And to top it all off, Steve the jerk came in the front door and saw me. "Dukakis, Dukakis" he cried in mock triumph with is fists pumping in the air. Man, I was pissed. It was humiliating. Looking back, I was probably a little bitter. But what bugged me was not that all the issues that he campaigned on would go by the wayside. I can’t even think of what they are. What really bothered me was that my guy lost. And I would have to spend the next four years dealing with it.

There is one other perspective from my experiences in college I'd like to relate. People often hear that the Democratic Party is in lockstep with the TeacherÂ’s Unions, that teachers are a monolithic voting block. Well, IÂ’m here to tell you itÂ’s so true that itÂ’s scary. During the final weeks of the campaign I was doing my student teaching. (I should point out here that after graduation, I did not go on to a career in teaching. My experience "on the inside" of the Education profession stopped here.) It was in a fairly well-funded regional system in an affluent group of towns. My cooperating teacher was great and I remember the overall experience with quite a bit of fondness. However, this was my first experience in the trenches of professional education. And what I saw was a little eye-opening. All of the teachers that I came into contact were Democrats and all were rapidly anti-Bush. It seemed to be based on an irrational fear that, if elected, George Bush would cut all federal funding to public schools and work hard to get as many teachers thrown out on the street as possible. Unfortunately for the Republicans, this is a false image that Democrats have pushed for years, and the GOP didnÂ’t have a history of fighting that stereotype. But more about that later.

I felt it in the culture. It was a "let’s stick together and fight the enemy" mentality. So this phenomenon is not a new one. Unfortunately, I fell into this mentality as well. I remember doing some post-election analysis for my eight grade class. Under the guise of explaining the electoral process, I took the opportunity to undermine Bush’s victory to these impressionable kids. Basically, I took the election results and used math and percentages to point out that of all the people eligible (not registered – eligible) to vote, less than 25% if that total number actually voted for Bush. Never mind that even fewer voted for Dukakis. But the not-so-subtle point I made that day was that the President-Elect of the United States had the "true" support of less than 1 in 4 of its citizens. Technically, it was true but it really took the results out of context. I’m ashamed to say that I willingly used by position to push my views at a captive audience who probably took most of what I said at face value. It is ironic that in the close election of 2000, I would see Gore supporters using the same tactics to undermine the next President-Elect Bush.

One other postscript to this election - Lee Atwater died in 1990 of a brain aneurism. He was only in his forties. Something else I’m ashamed to admit is that, at the time, I saw this tragedy as a positive turn of events because Atwater now was a weapon no longer available to the GOP arsenal. For a long time, I blamed him for the fiasco of ’88 when in reality it was Dukakis who blew it. Strange as it would seem, the Democrats would later get an Atwater of their own named James Carville. And for a while, I loved him the way I hated Atwater – because he was on our side. (To be continued...)

Part VI

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THE STORY SO FAR (PART IV)...

Prior Chapters linked below:

Part III

Part II

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------

THE COLLEGE YEARS (Part 2: Life with Bob and the ‘88 Primaries):

During my sophomore year in college (from late 1986 to mid-1987), I lived in a dorm at S.C.S.U. My first year I roomed with a friend from home who later dropped out and now I was with a Senior who bore a striking resemblance to John Belushi. Being twenty-one and on his way out, he didnÂ’t spend a lot of time at the dorm, but I had no complaints. He was a good guy and I pretty much had the room to myself most of the time. At this point I befriended a fellow named Bob who I remained close friends with for many years afterward. We had a lot of things in common. The three biggest were: we loved the NY Football Giants, we both enjoyed domestic beer (too much) and we were both life-long Democrats. Bob, in fact, was more "up" on local politics than I was being as his father was a member of his town's Democratic Committee.

Like me, Bob was a Democrat because he came from a family of Democrats and he held the same "us v. them" view as I did about Republicans. It was after the Hart fiasco that we began to discuss the remaining candidates – none of whom I was really familiar with. But Bob, being from a town not far from the Massachusetts border, he knew one of them quite a bit. Mass. Governor Michael Dukakis. Now, as you know by this point, I was looking for candidate to root for and not really knowing much about any of them – and trusting Bob’s judgment – I was ready to accept this recommendation. In fact, I had a kind of warped view that held to the idea that a person should support the most local candidate for President because, when in office, he (or she) would treat the old stomping grounds with a little geographic favoritism. So, Dukakis soon became "the Man" for me in ’88.

All right, now itÂ’s my first Presidential election in which I can actually vote, and not just the general election in November. I actually get excited about the primary. It was at the end of March, so with the most of the primaries out of the way, Connecticut didnÂ’t mean all that much. Dukakis was in the lead as far as delegates went and the only credible challenger still in the race was Al Gore. As I recall, there were a number of Northeastern States also holding primaries that day and Gore, who had picked up several delegates on "Super Tuesday" a few weeks before, was not polling well outside of the South. So there I was, ready to cast a ballot for the lead horse in the race.

Had I been more politically savvy then, I would have realized that a Northern Liberal Techno-crat really had no chance to win over the heartland. But I naively hoped and believed. OK, he wasnÂ’t John F. Kennedy but I spent a lot of time researching his career and reviewing his accomplishments as Governor. True, Massachusetts had prospered under his tutelage but it had more to do with the rapid development of technology in the state than anything else. To DukakisÂ’ credit, he did support measures that were pro-growth in the business sector but government spending programs also weighed it down. In addition, taxes were pretty bad in the State. Typical of a Democrat, Dukakis believed that bigger Government was better.

If nothing else, my experiences were really educational in terms of understanding how politics works. It was during this time that the concept of strategy began to sink in. As soon as Dukakis was coronated at the convention (I actually taped his speech and played it back a couple of times), the GOP strategists began to go in for the kill. One of the big guys on Team Bush was Lee Atwater. He was, in a word, a genius when it came to politics and I hated him for it - not unlike today's Democrats despise George W. Bush's political handler, Karl Rove. He knew the game and, more importantly, he knew the electorate. Atwater understood that of the people who actually vote a third of them always voted Republican, another third always voted Democrat, and the remaining third waited until after Labor Day and took a look. And what they looked at were sound bites, headlines on the network news shows and the occasional political commercial.

Today of course, with cable news and the Internet, voters get their info from a more diverse group of sources. But back then it was still just the big three networks, and a handful of cable systems that got CNN. In 1988, people wanted pretty much the status quo. And while George Bush wasnÂ’t exactly a dream date of many voters he was at least a known quantity. Of course, Lee Atwater knew that by and large the electorate did not look favorably on Liberals. From George McGovern to Walter Mondale, voters had had their fill of the Left and it was DukakisÂ’ burden to prove he wasnÂ’t you standard garden-variety establishment big government high-taxing Liberal with a capital "L".

Part V

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THE STORY SO FAR (PART III)...

Part 3? Yep... Prior Chapters linked below:

Part II

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------

THE COLLEGE YEARS (part 1: 1985-1987):

For many people, college is a place where you go to "discover" yourself in many different ways. One topic that is often examined is "What Do I Believe?" During these learning years, itÂ’s not uncommon for people to form a core of values that you use later in life to develop a political philosophy. Too often, however, you can easily fall into the trap of going along with what the next guy or gal is doing and assimilate this into oneself. ItÂ’s the "pack" mentality. I think this stems from a need to belong. You form friendships away from home, meeting people from different backgrounds and all of a sudden you find yourself identifying with them.

When I first arrived at college, I didn’t pay much attention to anything political or socio-cultural. At the time, the movement toward political correctness was well under way but I was at a time in my life when I was too disengaged to really notice. I do have a couple of observations as I look back in hindsight. The first was my view of the College Republicans. Unfortunately for me, the ones that I knew personally fit every stereotype I had ever held - clean-cut, neatly dressed, conservative and likely affluent. Although, it was a state school so affluence here is pretty relative. Also, they were jerks. I cannot say for certain to what extent they were inherently jerky or how much of my perception of their jerkiness I put upon them. But at the very least they came off as a little arrogant. I’m sure there were quite a few of them who were articulate, intelligent and all-in-all decent guys but I wasn’t about to investigate. As far as I was concerned they weren’t one of me and I wasn’t one of them – case closed.

There was also a newly formed political action group called ConnPIRG (Connecticut Political Interest Research Group, or something like that). At the time I considered them just a bunch of activists trying to beef up their post-graduation resumes. Go to their website and you will find information on their agenda – all left-wing. You need only to examine their legislative scorecard on CT’s U.S. Senators and Congressman to determine their politics. Endangered Species, energy policy, ANWR drilling, Global Warming, you name it. This is why Republicans in general (and Conservatives in particular) have, in the past, been defined by their opposition rather than defining themselves. The real irony, is that today the liberals are the reactionaries, always opposing reform and offering nothing as an alternative beyond the "status quo".

As I stated, I really didnÂ’t give much thought to politics after the 1984 election until the time approached for the next Presidential cycle. I was less concerned with what I believed than I was with the idea of finding a Jack Kennedy to root for. It was simple: I was a Democrat, there was a Republican in the White House and 1988 was the next big chance to elect "one of us". I identified less with policies and platforms and more with a candidate. And at that moment, the horse that most Democrats were putting their money on was a man from the West, Colorado Senator Gary Hart.

When Hart ran in Â’84, he was clearly just a runner-up trying to build some national name recognition. IÂ’m sure he probably knew whoever ran against Reagan would get stomped. But he also knew that that person would get a tremendous amount of television coverage. Even losing out on the Democratic nomination wasnÂ’t all that big a deal because when Mondale lost, he was the next most recognized national figure in the Party. And ever since the 1950's and Adlai Stevenson, Democrats have a long tradition of kicking the most recent losing candidate to the curb. Hart wasnÂ’t exactly Kennedy, but he was young and he represented a kind of break from the old Humphry-McGovern-Mondale wing of the Party.

I remember reading an issue of The Atlantic that "pre-viewed the possible Presidential candidates that the Democrats would likely field in the 1988 election. I donÂ’t remember a lot of the content but I do remember that there were eight of them that had openly stated that they were interested in the nomination. The article kind of described them as Gary Hart and the seven dwarves (because of their lack of political stature and lack of national exposure).

Yep, Gary Hart was the man and it seemed there was not stopping him all the way to the convention. Then, of course, in the late spring of 1987 he got caught in a tryst with young model Donna Rice. What a disaster. It represented the new environment of reporting that we now lived in. Network news was being threatened by cable and the business had never been so competitive. Thus had begun the era of "gotcha" journalism.

Presidents and Presidential candidates have had adultery in their closets since the founding of the Republic. I’m by no means condoning the action but those were the unwritten rules of conduct. Reporters kept information like that off the front page. But now the rules had changed. And Hart was the first guy to find this out – that all bets were off. He made it even worse for himself by literally daring reporters to try and find any dirt on him. His arrogance and stupidity became is undoing. But to me, at the time, this was unfair. This was a witch-hunt. They were out to get him. Whatever. It’s funny how this knee-jerk reaction would play itself out again in the future.

I distinctly remember how the story played out. I think the newspaper ran the story (with incriminating picture) on a Wednesday. By Thursday evening it was caught in the weekend news cycle and was the hot topic around every form of media. Hart was dead in the water and everyone knew it. A young Bill Clinton was watching very carefully. That Friday afternoon I was in the student union shooting pool with my girlfriend. And over the loudspeaker, the d.j. on the college radio took relish in dedicating the Don Henley song, "Dirty Laundry" to Senator Hart. I hung my head. This could not be happening.

But it did. Two things resulted. I convinced myself that somehow the Republicans were to blame. They must have been behind it. I overlooked Hart’s personal conduct and saw it as an attack on "my guy". In addition, I was hardened in my support of the next Democrat – no matter who he was. This was not because there were so many issues that tied me to the Party – I hadn’t yet developed a deep enough understanding of these issues. No, this had become a case of US versus THEM and, by God, WE were going to win in ’88. It is stunning to see how this has not only become the prevailing attitude among many on the angry left, but how high the intensity has ratched itself up. (to be continued...)

Part IV

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February 04, 2005

THE STORY SO FAR (PART II)...

If you missed the first chapter, go here:

Part I
-----------------------------------------------------------

THE EIGHTIES


(1981-1984):

Over the next four years, I spent considerably more time focused on my adolescence that politics. Besides, I didn't have burning issues to drive me. I wasn’t at that level of interest yet. I really hadn’t fully grasped the practical and ideological differences that were being fought over. I was more interested in – well, girls. I spent my high school years at a parochial school because my parents were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to keep me out of the Bridgeport school system. Being employed by the Department of Education in Bridgeport, they knew it well. I was surrounded by kids who bused in from towns all over Southwestern Connecticut.

Going to a Catholic school was not a new experience for me. I had just been in one from grade four through eight, but that was a much smaller environment. Not all the kids at my high school were affluent, I certainly wasn’t. There were quite a few of them whose families I saw as archetypically Republican. But the families of those kids who were in a similar socio-economic situation to mine definitely weren’t Democrats. (The idea of unaffiliated, of course, was a foreign one to me at that time.) The bottom line is that most of these kids had parents who made some kind of sacrifice to send them there rather than opt for public school education. Needless to say, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk politics very much with anyone – even if I was inclined to do so.

What really made me feel different in that environment was not my politics, it was my religion. I had been raised in a Protestant church, although my mother was raised a Catholic. This was a difference I had felt at my last school but when you enter those high school years itÂ’s more important than ever to try to belong. That was just one more thing that got in the way of my attempts to blend with the rest of the students. I had a few really close friends and many acquaintances. This was a pattern I would continue to follow most of my life.

So for me life on the outside was pretty normal. I was a Democrat when Republicans were more popular. I was a Protestant in a Catholic School. I was a reader in a culture that worshipped MTV. Considering how different I already felt, what happened in 1984 was pretty miraculous.

The Â’84 Campaign:

The 1984 Presidential Campaign was the first one that I had actually followed from the primary season until Election Day. I was taking an interest in politics as it played out on the national stage. As someone who really liked history, this was a big event – history was unfolding. As I said, I thought Reagan was a decent President (however I only had scant memories of Carter to compare first hand) but to me he was on the other team. I wanted a Democrat in the White House but not because I had even the faintest understanding or either Domestic or Foreign Policy and the different party platforms on these issues. I wanted a Democrat because we were Democrats.

So, naturally I was looking for the next Kennedy or FDR on the horizon. The first time I realized who Walter Mondale was, I was watching a sound bite from a debate where he quoted a WendyÂ’s commercial and asked one of his opponents, Colorado Senator Gary Hart "WhereÂ’s the Beef?" This quip was directed at HartÂ’s lack of specifics in articulating what he would do as President. Now, let me make myself clear. I didnÂ’t fall in love with Mondale during this campaign. I was actually kind of turned off by his nasally voice and wished he would do something about those awful bags under his eyes. Mondale, however, carried some gravitas about him because he had served as Vice-President under Carter and of course he was favored to win the nomination.

About this time, I was starting to pay attention to the subtleties of Political campaigns, strategy, and the like. I remember when he chose NY Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. It was Fritz ‘n Tits in ’84. Now this move was seen by some pundits as a deft one. They pointed out how attractive the ticket was to women and that is was unconventional, thereby indicating that Mondale had some balls to take this kind of chance. Sadly, though it was a desperation move. The fact was both he and Ferraro were Liberals with a capital "L" and while this pair excited some (but not all) of the Party’s base, it did nothing for those voters in fly-over country (what we today call the "Red States").

Talk about a complete geek, I was sixteen years old and went on vacation in Cape Cod with my parents and a buddy of mine. I ended up watching MondaleÂ’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. It wasnÂ’t easy to listen to. The one thing that sticks out in my memory is a line that made my jaw drop. He said "I will raise your taxes". There was a kind of hush in the crowd. "Huh?" I thought. He continued, "IÂ’m telling you, and he (Reagan) wonÂ’t." The crowd roared with approval. I couldnÂ’t believe my ears. I was incredulous for a minute and then (probably like many in the crowd) began trying to convince myself that politically, this was really smart.

This all came out of the fact that, although the economy was pumping along just fine, there was a growing budget deficit. Reagan had honored his pledge to cut taxes across the board in 1981 and since then, except for the first year, actual collected tax revenues rose dramatically. The penalty for success was partially stripped away and businesses small and large began earning record revenues. Even though the percentage collected was lower, the amount on which the percentage was based increased significantly. If you tax $1.00 at 50%, you collect 50 cents on the dollar. But by lowering the tax rate, the government was now collecting less on the dollar – but on a lot more dollars.

Unfortunately, Congress began spending it faster than they could collect it. Much of it went toward defense – this is true. But so much went for wasteful pet projects and pork that the deficits grew and grew. Mondale (and most Democrats) really believed that the logical course of action was to raise taxes to reduce the deficit. Cutting spending never entered their minds. What Mondale (and his handlers) didn’t understand was that the American people didn’t accept this proposition for one minute. The idea of being candid was not a prudent one. It wasn’t a question of being honest; it came down to two different philosophies of governing.

In hindsight, I donÂ’t believe that Mondale had a chance regardless, but at the time I held out hope. Again, it wasnÂ’t out of ideological agreement it was because I damn well wanted a Democrat in the White House. I actually wore a Mondale-Ferraro button around school on my blue blazer (Catholic school, remember?) and although I didnÂ’t take a lot of abuse, I got a lot of eye-rolling and dumbfounded looks.

The election came and went and I wasnÂ’t shocked by the outcome. Of course, I had hoped that it would be a lot closer, but the inevitable chants of "four more years" filled my ears as I watched the victory parties on TV and moved on to other distractions. Hey, I was about graduate High School, find a college to go to, fall in love, and basically start a new phase of my life.

Part III

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THE STORY SO FAR (PART I)...

This is the history of my "political" life. Where I came from, where I've been, where I am today. The nuts and bolts of the following was all originally composed pre-9/11. I'll try to break it up into shorter posts to keep it digestible.

Before 1980, I was a typical kid. I was one of the last generations of young children who could expect to go out and play in the neighborhood pretty much all day without my mother knowing where I was or what I was doing. She didn’t have to worry. I played with my friends, went to the park, played baseball…the regular stuff. I even had a huge empty lot in my neighborhood complete with hills, tall grass, piles of dirt and concrete, ponds and a tiny stream that cut the area into two ‘zones’. For lack of a more flowery description, we called it "the dump". Looking back I recall there were many sharp objects, hazardous material and places to fall from. But we played army or cowboys and indians and we never had a problem.

I became obsessed with Star Wars (the movie, not the missile defense plan) and watched a lot of TV, usually reruns of shows I was too young to understand when they were first run – Brady Bunch, Partridge Family, The Monkees, etc. My world was still a kid’s world and I wasn’t even aware that there were political parties, much less two major ones. I was interested in history, especially U.S. history, but I only knew famous people or events in the context of a bigger picture. As far as I knew, voters were simply Americans who chose one guy or the other.

It was during the Presidential campaign of 1980 when I first knew about Democrats and Republicans. I also found out that my family was the former and we didnÂ’t personally know any of the latter. My Dad was a union guy, a plumber and pipe-fitter by trade who worked for the city of Bridgeport, CT. I once asked my Mom if we were rich or poor. Giving me a puzzled look, she said, "Well, weÂ’re definitely not rich. But weÂ’re certainly not poor. WeÂ’re sort of in the middle." And as far as I was concerned, in the middle was an OK place to be. As I looked around my neighborhood, I noticed that I could say that just about every one I knew was "in the middle".

Now this is important because it was my first attempt at coming to terms with any kind of political identity. The world as I had come to know it (and America to me was the world) was comprised of decent, hard-working people who were "in the middle" and rich fat-cats, most of whom probably inherited their money and their extravagant lifestyles. We were Democrats and they were Republicans. You can see early on the class-warfare mentality. If you had told me that there were a lot of people like me who were Republicans, I would have been very skeptical.

My pre-teen abilities to conceive the way our society worked were ripe for the simple concepts of stereotypes and absolutes. All of us grow up observing our parents. Some of us reject everything they tell us out of hand and do the opposite. These are the rebels. But most of us conform largely to the way our parents and grandparents view the world. After all, when we are very young we think our folks pretty much know everything and they wouldn’t lie to us – would they? Well, there was that Santa Claus thing and the idea the dentist won’t hurt us a bit. But as far as the real world goes, there’s no inherent reason why we shouldn’t accept what the say and who we are.

So the distinction was clear. Democrats look out for those of us "in the middle" and the Republicans are all for the rich, the corporations and the bosses. These are distinctions that some people go their whole lives without questioning, even once. This was the template on which I based a search for political "heroes". But there was something else. I identified with the Democratic Party the way I would be a fan of a professional sports team. My father was a Giants fan. I became a Giants fan. He was a Mets fan, so I was a Mets fan. He was a Democrat, his father was a DemocratÂ… See a pattern here. It was what I knew best and what I identified with. It all came so naturally.

I vaguely remember that whole campaign. Carter was not popular. Even a household full of Democrats like my family couldnÂ’t say anything nice about him. But Ronald Reagan? He was an oddity, a Republican who was likable and made a little sense. He convinced a lot of Democrats to vote for him. And to this day, IÂ’m not completely sure who my parents voted for. I know they voted. They ALWAYS voted. My grandmother told me she voted for Independent (and former Republican) John Anderson because she didnÂ’t like either of the two headliners.

And Reagan won big – really big. And for the first time in decades, the GOP took control of the Senate. At the time, Reagan was a President that many Democrats, especially Liberal Democrats, considered their nemesis. He was extremely popular and likable and spoke to a country that was feeling pretty lousy about itself. He was able to connect with the average American and give them the confidence they needed to wipe off the layer of malaise that was covering the country and plow forward. The value of his leadership both home and abroad cannot be overestimated. Of course, I felt differently back them.

One of the greatest regrets I will always carry with me is that, as both an American and a student of history, I never allowed myself to appreciate Ronald Reagan during those eight years. That just wasn't going to happen. I did like him but I could never embrace his Presidency as so many others did because he was on the other team. Hell, he was the quarterback of the other team. I’d have any easier time cheering John Elway in Superbowl XXI. Unfortunately for me, that is the way I viewed it all – our team versus their team and their team had the ball. Forget that the economy was rising and the Soviet Union was falling.

Ronald Reagan could have been my political hero but I refused to allow it. If he were a Democrat, I probably would have had a picture of him in my room. My parents had John F. Kennedy and their parents had F.D.R. I was still waiting for my generationÂ’s Democrat. If seemed he would never come. In retrospect, it all seems kind of pathetic. (to be continued...)

Part II

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