Politics: The Day My Love For Politics Died
Can you hear Don McLean singing in the background? Get it? American Pie? Never mind, let’s move on with the article.
The title is a bit misleading because there was not one day when my love for politics died but rather several, and those days will be the focus of my attention while writing this article. I was sitting around yesterday straining my brain for the topic of my next Hub when I saw an article by one of my favorite Hubbers, Poetvix. She has such a passion for the American political scene, and while I was reading one of her Hubs it occurred to me that I once had that same kind of passion for politics. So what happened to me? Where did the fire go? Why do I feel like upchucking each and every time a politician opens their mouth and says ANYTHING? You all know the old joke: how do you know when a politician is lying? Their lips are moving! That’s pretty much where I am during my sixty-third year on this planet.
So I thought I would write this Hub and explain my reasons for being so turned-off by the political scene. The reasons are not in any particular order; one wasn’t any more influential than another, but looking back over my sixty-odd years I can see how they all added up to the point where I become nauseous anytime I see a picture of a donkey’s ass or an elephant’s trunk. Or is that the other way around? See, it just doesn’t matter any longer.
My first recollection of being interested in politics was in 1959 as the Presidential race between Kennedy and Nixon heated up. I was eleven years old and fascinated with the youthful exuberance of John F. Kennedy; it didn’t hurt that he was Catholic since at that time my knees were bruised from a lifetime of genuflection. I actually got in a fistfight with one of the neighborhood kids over the big contest and I was flying high and nothing short of obnoxious when Kennedy won. His inauguration speech left me in awe and I followed his every move in the White House, secretly planning to one day be President myself and take over Kennedy’s job when he finally relinquished control. At that point I didn’t realize that there was an age requirement to run the country; I just figured in eight years the nation would be singing my praises from steeple tops across the country and girls would fall at my feet in adoration. Obviously what I lacked in political science knowledge I more than made up for in imagination.
And then Kennedy was killed! How could it happen? How could such an exciting and passionate man be shot? How could it happen in America? I remember reading about other assassinations around the world but that was around the world; things like that simply don’t happen in America. And yet it did, and I was heartsick and more than a little disillusioned. This was supposed to be the Land of the Free; a man was supposed to be able to believe anything he wanted and he could stand for anything and in this country it was allowed because we had Freedom of Speech. And yet it happened!
I hung in there, though; I began with new resolve to become a part of the political movement, to champion causes that were important to me. I watched in horror the disintegration of American Civil Rights across the South and I read as much as I could about a country I had previously been ignorant about….Viet Nam. I wrote letters to the editor and signed up to pass out pamphlets and leaflets and I knocked on doors and joined student government. Entering college in 1966 my horizons expanded, my opportunities to become involved increased exponentially, and my dream of one day running for office and being a part of the system increased. I marched for the Civil Rights Movement and marched against Viet Nam and I was vocal and passionate and ready to shake up the world. Then, one fine Spring day in 1968, on April 4th as a matter of fact, my political foundation was shaken once again when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Here was a man who was charismatic and made me cry when he spoke of his dream and led the way towards freedom, and he was shot down for his beliefs about freedom. In the United States! For his beliefs about freedom! In the Land of the Free!
You see, I must have been terribly naïve! I don’t know how else to explain the fact that I believed the words in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I believed that what set America apart from other nations around the world was our fundamental belief that all men were created equal and that each one of us has unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I actually believed those words! Still, King was shot dead and I was numb and I cried but I went back to work for the cause and I was just getting my feet back under me when two months later it happened again.
June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. This event damn near crushed me and looking back I’m pretty sure now that the death rattle could be heard in the political being inside of me. I was a Robert Kennedy fanatic; I truly believed that he could end the war and he could end injustices in our country and he would see to it that every person, rich or poor, white or black, man or woman, had a chance to succeed in our country. The year before he died I had run for Precinct Committeeman in our neighborhood and although I lost I felt that I was making a difference, that I was being heard, that I was part of the solution. I was tireless in my efforts to work for the poor, starting a reading program for the poor and volunteering at neighborhood centers and working at the Food Bank and on June 5,1968, the dream took a body blow that I could not recover from.
My reaction was to turn a deaf ear to the political events after Kennedy’s assassination. I was turned off by Johnson, sickened by Nixon and bored to tears by the endless succession of Puppet Masters that followed. I went about the business of teaching; if I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take a part in the political process to fashion change then I would work on educating the youth of America and thus promote change of a different kind. For thirty years I went along in that fashion, teaching, paying taxes, marrying, raising children and paying just a little attention to the politicians during that span of time. It had become apparent that the fire was gone but I still hoped that if just one honest politician came forth, one politician with the fire I had seen and felt during the Sixties, then change could happen within the Halls of Congress and the White House and by extension then within our nation.
I was momentarily awakened when Bill Clinton won the Presidency. I can’t really say that I believed in him per se but he was interesting enough and he certainly was never boring and he appeared to care about the common citizen so I at the very least followed his actions and held the slightest glimmer of hope.
Until August 17, 1998 that is; on that day President Clinton testified before the Starr Grand Jury about his Lewinsky affair. Now please, don’t get me wrong here and don’t make assumptions that shouldn’t be made. I really didn’t care if he had an affair with Lewinsky. I was no virgin regarding the activities of politicians and whether or not he had sex held very little importance to me. What bothered me, however, was the fact that he seemed to be incapable of telling the truth. He literally debated the meaning of ‘sexual relations’ as if that made any difference at all. It was such a shameless testimony, such an incredible and ridiculous attempt to hide the truth and by extension avoid responsibility that I turned the television off in disgust and swore off politics.
Which brings us to today! If I were to ask you who had the most power on the United States political stage today who would you say? The Congress? The President? The Supreme Court? If you chose any of those I believe you would be wrong. In my humble opinion special interest groups wield more power than any of those aforementioned players. We have been warned for centuries now about the dangers of campaign contributions; our forefathers spoke about this current situation and the columnists will occasionally write an article trying to wake up the masses to the dangers of special interest groups but to no avail. Millions upon millions of dollars are spent in each election to buy the allegiance of politicians across this country and then we wonder why Congress can’t agree on anything? More surprising is the fact that many citizens can’t figure out why the average citizen has so little say in the political agenda! Well, the average citizen would have much to say if they would only, could only, contribute a million dollars. Come to think of it a million dollars would probably only guarantee a five minute meeting with their congressman; it might take a hundred million to see some change actually happen.
Am I being facetious? Am I being whimsical? Are these just the words of a bitter old man who has suffered too many disappointments regarding politics and has finally snapped? It makes no difference now does it? This article was a trip down Memory Lane in an attempt to explain when my passion for politics died. I am too old now to run for a political office; besides, I simply have no desire to do so. I have chosen to bring about change through my teaching and now that I am retired from the classroom I will try to change society one neighborhood at a time through my writings. If you are still passionate about politics like my friend Poetvix then I wish you well and hope your fire never dies. This country needs people with the fire still burning.