Passion for Politics Through the Decades

Some people follow sports.  I don’t, but I follow politics with the same amount of enthusiasm as the biggest sports fanatics.  My love of politics began quite young.  I was born in Washington, DC in 1971 and grew up in suburban Maryland, so politics was always a part of my life.

It is hard to believe, but my first political memory is of President Nixon resigning.  I remember seeing the president cry on TV.  It stood out because all the adults were glued to the broadcast.

My next political memory is of the patriotism surrounding the 4th of July 1976.  My mother made cherry pies, cakes frosted with red, white and blue icing and I even had a bathing suit with the American flag on it.  It seemed to me that everything that summer was all about pride in our nation. 

When I stayed with my grandparents on Saturday nights as a child, I was given two options; either I watched Lawrence Welk with my grandmother or Agronsky & Company with my grandfather in the other room. I found Lawrence Welk boring, but the passion on Agronsky & Company was quite compelling.  I loved the roundtable discussion format which is now common today even though I rarely understood the substance of the debates.

President Reagan inspired many of my generation and I was no exception.  I wrote him a letter when I was 10 and he wrote back.  From then on, I watched every single speech. The one that stands out as the most inspiring is his 1986 State of the Union Address where he said: 

And tonight I want to speak directly to America’s younger generation, because you hold the destiny of our nation in your hands. With all the temptations young people face, it sometimes seems the allure of the permissive society requires superhuman feats of self-control. But the call of the future is too strong, the challenge too great to get lost in the blind alleyways of dissolution, drugs, and despair. Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive, a time of rousing wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film “Back to the Future,” “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

Well, today physicists peering into the infinitely small realms of subatomic particles find reaffirmations of religious faith. Astronomers build a space telescope that can see to the edge of the universe and possibly back to the moment of creation.

I began college at Milwaukee’s Marquette University in 1989 and I was embarrassed to be from Washington, DC which was then Murder Capital of the USA  and where Mayor Marion Barry was convicted of drug possession.  Later, I began actively campaigning for Pat Buchanan and was actually one of the leaders of the WI chapter of his campaign for presidency.  Buchanan appealed to me because he grew up in Bethesda, MD with my mother, aunts and uncles.  He proved to be far too right-wing for me and for America at large. 

During the 1992 presidential election night, I worked for the Associated Press Milwaukee Bureau helping to tabulate the votes and was stunned when Bill Clinton won.  I didn’t share in my fellow co-worker’s excitement and felt left out. 

I graduated from college and began working on Capitol Hill for Representative Steve Gunderson and my political views became much more moderate as I realized that the Republican party did include a tent wide enough for a large spectrum of voters. I also gained an appreciation for the majesty of the Capitol.  Walking through its halls daily left me awestruck in a way all the grade-school fieldtrips hadn’t.  I was a part of things and that was exciting.  More exciting still was when the Republicans took control of the House and Senate.  I remember clearly when a much older and experienced staffer who was legal counsel said, “Oh my God!  Now we actually have to create legislation rather than block it.”  His statement shocked me because I knew that wasn’t how it was supposed to work. 

Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America was impressive and I was thrilled to be playing even the smallest role in his plan.  It was so refreshing to see a politician follow through on his promises even though those first 100 days were quite exhausting. 

The congressman announced his retirement and I went to work for an agriculture association.  Each day on my way to work, I walked past Monica Lewinsky’s attorneys’ offices and the media permanently camped outside.  I watched fascinated as President Clinton looked straight at the camera (and it seemed at me) and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”  I read the Kenneth Starr report alternately shocked and disgusted.  Clinton had lied and it had been proven with DNA evidence.  When Clinton was impeached in 1998 and then refused to resign, I was dumbfounded.  When he won reelection, I was both impressed with his tenacity and incredulous at his victory.

The George W. Bush and Al Gore presidential race was riveting.  Like most Americans I watched as NBC’s Tim Russert held up a white board and said, “It all comes down to Florida.”  The hanging chads situation reminded me of just how important each vote is in the country.  I was thrilled when Bush won and grateful he was our president on September 11, 2001.  I was proud of him when he spoke at Ground Zero and felt reassured by his State of the Union afterwards.  The surge of patriotism that followed was comforting and unifying for Americans.  It was wonderful to see something great come out of such a devastating tragedy. 

The first time I saw IL Senate Candidate Barrack Obama speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I knew that he had a special charisma. Still I was surprised that he became the 2008 presidential candidate.  Senator John McCain didn’t excite me even though his service to our nation was impressive.  I was reinvigorated in the election when McCain picked Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.  For the first time ever, I really felt as if it might be possible for a woman to hold such a high office. 

While I didn’t vote for Obama and couldn’t believe he won, he is my president because I am an American.  I believe strongly in the system our forefathers created and I love watching it play out. 

Similar to sports enthusiasts, I’ve found politics is always interesting even if my team doesn’t win.


Choose Your Words Carefully

We use language as a means to transmit ideas. A person has a thought and needs to figure out how to communicate that to others. If a person uses the wrong words, it doesn’t matter how great the ideas were because no one received them. When we use words that offend, it’s like we hit a wall because our message is blocked. There are words that cause some listeners to tune out and when that happens, we aren’t being heard.

Last month, President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel used the word “retarded” in a private meeting. He’s received great criticism for his insensitivity and Sarah Palin even said he should be fired. Palin’s son has Downs Syndrome and is very passionate about the use of this word. She said, “Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the ‘N-word’ or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities — and the people who love them — is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Emanuel has apologized publicly and privately to Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver for using the word “retarded.” This is not the first time the White House has come under fire for offending this group. In March of 2009, Obama himself made a joke about his bowling skills by referring to them as worthy of the Special Olympics on The Tonight Show.

The word “retarded” is offensive. In the past, it was used frequently and is now often used in slang as a form of slur particularly among young people. That doesn’t excuse its use, however. As our society evolves, so does our language. A person who scores below about a 70 on IQ tests is now called a person with an intellectual disability.

While some object to political correctness, our words matter. We would not call a person who has the flu, “a flu,” so we should not call a person who has paralysis of the legs “paralyzed.” We put the person first rather than the condition. He or she is a person with paralysis. This change in phrasing makes a big difference. A medical condition does not define a person or sum up everything he or she is. This is the reason for the change.

Critical thinkers choose their words carefully because they know if they don’t, they won’t be heard.