“My baloney has a first name, it’s J-I-M-M-Y…”
It was the late 70s and one of the kids on the school bus must have heard it somewhere. We all had a laugh about it, but I couldn’t say at that age I was any kind of political animal. I remember the day Reagan was shot, I was more upset that it preempted a Bugs Bunny special. Hey, gimmie a break. I was nine.
That all started to change for me in the mid-80s.
I was fascinated by the 1984 Democratic primaries. Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, John Glenn, George McGovern, Alan Cranston. They had candidates coming out of the woodwork like I’d never seen before or since, at least until the last two election cycles.
Throughout the decade, the Republicans were steady as a rock. This was the Reagan era — 12 years —an entire generation coming of age who never knew anything but Republican leadership. Think Alex P. Keaton, the jacket-and-tie-wearing young conservative son played by Michael J. Fox on “Family Ties.” The character may have been played for laughs, but for Generation X, he embodied the spirit of many.
I must have been born a natural contrarian. I was drawn to playing the role of the loyal opposition. My friends and I would argue and debate, laugh and joke. For fun, we all read Hedrick Smith’s “The Power Game” and watched McLaughlin and “Firing Line.” My friends eyed “Nixon in ‘88” T-shirts (“He’s tan, rested and ready!”). I opted for a “Don’t blame me, I voted for Bill n’ Opus” shirt from Berkeley Breathed’s “Bloom County” comic.
We’d get excuses from our parents so we could cut class to hear congressmen, senators, state reps and vice presidents speak. We saw Dan Quayle. Sen. John Heinz. Rep. Bob Walker. Even state officials. Yeah, we were pretty rowdy.
We started a branch of the Junior Statesmen of America at our school, so we could go debate other people (last I heard, it still exists! We have a legacy!) On a trip to New York, we stood on the roof of the World Trade Center and hiked for blocks in the freezing cold to get a peek inside the lobby of Trump Tower.
Closer to home, we created a scandal in our political science mock Senate when I sold out my party to get a few of my pet bills passed by supported the Republican’s bid to annex Japan. It may have driven a teacher into retirement.
We didn’t hate on each other or berate each other. It was a time when you assumed all politicians were playing a game, and likely not one played in your best interest. Comedians like Johnny Carson and Mark Russell could make light of it all without being snarky or insulting whole slices of the population. It was a time when politics was still a slightly-smarmy means to an end, worthy of objective analysis.
Today, politics is a “crusade.” A battle between good and evil. Right and wrong. “Socialism” and “fascism.” Assimilation to “right-minded thinking” is required or you face ostracism. We certainly can’t be friends. If you aren’t part of the cause, ulterior motives are assumed. One can’t even objectively compliment an opposing political strategy without its supporters thinking you are playing them in some fashion. Talk about sucking all the fun out of the thing.
Politics should never be taken that seriously. Setting the stakes that high will only lead to bitter disappointment. Thinking the other side’s politicians are crooks — that’s not a problem. It’s healthy. Thinking yours aren’t? That they are as committed to “the cause” as you are? That’s getting played. Politicians will tell you anything to protect their phony-baloney jobs.
I used to look forward to election days. They were like Christmas, full of excitement and surprises. Now, we have people arming themselves in the streets for “the coming civil war” — even embracing it. It’d be just my luck to get clipped in someone else’s revolution while trying to order a flippin’ quarter-pounder at the drive-thru.
Yes, we live in contentious times, but as I often point out in this space, it is hubris to believe they are the worst of times. Thinking you are single-handedly waging a war against some new Hitler or Mussolini, or, that these are the opening stanzas of the Book of Revelation? Nope. Sorry. Can’t get on board with that.
I realize for many, my cynicism to “the cause” — whichever yours may be — makes me an enemy. Part of the problem. Probably some sort of elitist.
Believe me, it’s all a matter of perspective. You should try the view from where I’m sitting.