Between mainlining episodes of The West Wing (two-thirds of the way through Season 3 and going strong) and today being President’s Day, I’ve been feeling downright presidential today. Well, not literally, I’ve been lounging around in shorts and a t-shirt all day as is my right as an American on a commemorative holiday, but presidential things have been on my mind.
The first president I have any real memory of is Gerald Ford, but nothing really specific. I remember him more in the context of running against Jimmy Carter and some quickly glimpsed moments from Chevy Chase’s impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live. I do recall making a pro-Carter bumper sticker in school as part of a project on the 1976 election with the incredibly witty slogan, “Ford Is a Nord But Carter Is Smarter.” I think I was trying to imply “nerd,” but that didn’t rhyme with Ford, and so some literary license was required. Of course, I didn’t know what literary license was either. And I was really only rooting for Carter because he was the challenger, and I’ve always had a thing for the underdog. So I felt all kinds of smart when my guy won the whole thing.
Most of my recollections of Carter center around high gas prices and the hostage crisis. Since I’d written a bumper sticker slogan for the guy, I felt a little defensive about him, and I still think he got a little bit of a raw deal. Not that I’d developed any kind of political viewpoint at the time. It was simply a matter of liking him and not wanting people to say mean things about him. My loyalty was a fickle thing though. When it came time for my class to do a mock vote for the 1980 election, I really went for the underdog and voted for independent candidate John Anderson.
Ronald Reagan was the first president I actually “got,” where I developed an opinion based on things he actually did and said as opposed to just liking him. Granted, I didn’t like him initially because he just seemed like a smarmy movie actor to me. And something about him just rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was the blossoming liberal in me, but I just felt like he was interested in helping a bunch of people who weren’t me, all masked behind a polished image that didn’t seem to have an awful lot of substance. I didn’t hate him, I didn’t feel like he was ruining the country, but I can’t say I wasn’t hoping Walter Mondale would win, or that I was counting down the days until his term ended.
1988 was the first year I could actually vote, and once I again I backed the underdog and voted for Michael Dukakis. My batting average wasn’t looking all that good at this point. I didn’t have a tremendous problem with George Bush, beyond the thought he’d be four more years of Reagan. But what did bother me about him was the fervency of some of the Young Republicans at Rollins who supported him. There was this smug sense of entitlement that really made me want to see their guy go down in flames, which, let’s face it, wasn’t going to happen running against Dukakis. But I tilted at my windmill, while tacking up in my dorm room window my real preference for the job in the form of a poster that read, “Roger Rabbit for President.” Who probably would have had enough sense not to get into that tank. Or at least be intentionally funny if he did.
Then came the glory days of Bill Clinton, where voting for my guy wasn’t some Quixotic gesture of futility. So of course, the other side spent the better part of Clinton’s two terms trying to tear him down, and that’s what really cemented my leftward leanings. The right had twelve years on top; why couldn’t they let us have our turn? And so much of the crap they threw Clinton’s way had so little to do with how he governed, things that should have been between him and his family. But that was all the ammo they had, so we go eight years of interns and blue dresses while the economy boomed and things were better for more people than they’d been in a long time. Oh the horror.
Then we had eight years of George W. Bush, and those nine words are all the effort I’m going to put into that.
As much as I liked Clinton, Barack Obama was the first candidate I really felt invested in. If Clinton had lost, I would have shrugged and moved on. But if Obama had lost, it would have felt like a real blow, especially given who he was up against. It’s funny, because I’m watching the string of episodes on The West Wing where President Bartlet being perceived as too smart is seen as a problem, predicting the whole “elitist” thing that came up with Obama by a good six years. Obama losing would have been a victory for the disengaged, knee-jerk, “I can have a beer with him” crowd. And another four years of that after W. would not have been a good thing.
So ten presidential elections, and I’m 5-5. I guess that kind of parity means you could say the system works. I’m certainly okay with being pissed off only half the time.