I had a fascinating conversation this week with a young man about the two national conventions. This college student described the two gatherings in Cleveland and Philadelphia accurately, but viewed through the eyes of someone really paying attention for the first time.
He described the differences between the campaigns as “being like high school.” It seems to him that the issues at hand have been reduced to a low quality popularity contest where the debate among voters is almost exclusively cosmetic and void of substance.
The description he gave of the conventions was generically just like mine: the Republicans seem scared and angry, and the Democrats seem full of hope.
He didn’t say who was getting his vote, but he did say who is scarier to him.
I remember my first presidential election. It was then Vice President George H.W. Bush versus then Massachusets Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988. I also remember two things President Bush said during that campaign. The first one was “read my lips, no new taxes.” I didn’t have any money back then so this bit was no sales pitch directed at me.
But the second one came from his speech at the RNC when he accepted his party’s nomination. He said “There is such a thing as reliable love. Some would say it is soft or insufficiently tough to care about these things. But where is it written that we must act as if we do not care, as if we are not moved? Well I am moved. I want a kinder, gentler nation.”
Whoa. I didn’t vote for him. But I see him differently now than I did back then. He didn’t need my vote, though that first presidential vote of mine is the only one I have cast that may have been wrong for me.
Things were easier for me and my pals back then. We weren’t arguing about what was in the latest email scandal, for an obvious reason. We also weren’t pondering whether or not it was ok to admire the “leader” of Russia. In 1988, that treasonous act would have easily disqualified any candidate.
That year, I was a senior in college and wasn’t sure how I was going to pay the final bills. President Reagan had inconveniently “reformed” the college financial aid structure during his tenure, and his V.P. suffered the consequences with me when I voted.
Neither candidate scared me though. Neither of them hid from who they were or what Americans should expect from their presidency. Gov. Dukakis proudly acknowledged his membership in the ACLU, and proclaimed he was a “liberal,” going on to say it shouldn’t be a dirty word.
This is the America I know. I will always compare the politics of today to the politics I first learned. Most of us will. I am not one of those people who misses the good old days very often, but this election season is one of those times.
What will the young people of today miss? They won’t think of the first woman nominee or president the way my generation does. An African American president is already normal to them. And these are things that make today so much better than yesterday.
But unless some things are soundly rejected this year, the normalcy of them could take hold. The Hillary Clinton campaign commercial titled “your children are watching” has had a profound effect on me. Not just because it blasts the candidate least suitable to serve, but it puts into perspective what the American public has allowed to become acceptable of a presidential nominee.
To my Republican friends who once knew better than to support the fledgling fascist their party just nominated: losing this year is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing would be that your guy wins, and that performances like his become status quo. Smart Republicans know this much.
More importantly to me today though is that the young man I mention above happens to be my son. I am happy he doesn’t think the political success of Obama or Clinton is odd. That actually is progress.
I hope his memory of this election is the clear rejection of its tone. And our first time voters need to look back on this election proudly because it was the last election like this, instead of the first.
Son, meet America. You two have plenty to talk about.