By: Bill Holmes
Here we are once again in the middle of the presidential election season. Some election cycles are exciting and in doubt. Other years they are boring and predetermined. Then we have elections like this year, boring and in doubt. Actually boring, not media hyped exciting. Even the boring ones are important.
I guess I've been following presidential elections to some degree since 1960. I wasn't old enough to vote by several more years and not very politically aware but that election was special. My parents were Catholic, Mom was from Massachusetts and I was enrolled in Catholic school. For only the second time in US history and the first time since 1928 a Roman Catholic was nominated by a major political party for president. Maybe even more compelling to me and my barely teenage peers was that the nominee was in his early 40's. Although still old to us, he wasn't ancient like most politicians. Catholic, young and vibrant got our attention.
Of course that candidate was John F. Kennedy. He won that election and became our 35th president. Looking back I still can't believe how close that election was. He barely beat (or did he) Richard Nixon. Even back then I felt Nixon was a sleazebag. He proved my intuition right about a dozen years later.
Since then I've been hot, warm and cold about different presidential elections. I was for LBJ's civil rights push but against the Vietnam War. Partly for selfish reasons because I was of draft age and partly because the war didn't make much sense to me. The South Vietnamese government didn't seem much different than the North. I escaped the draft but did lose some friends physically, mentally and emotionally. I was excited in 1976 about Jimmy Carter. I lived in Georgia at the time and he had done a very good job as governor. Plus Nixon/Agnew/Ford had been a disaster. What a disappointment Carter was. He and his staff seemed completely overwhelmed by Washington and the job. Oil embargoes, gas rationing, continued inflation, Iran hostages with a totally failed rescue attempt and general malaise sealed the deal. Although not a big Reagan supporter, it was time to get Carter out of office by 1980. At least Reagan was optimistic. The Carter disappointment turned me off politics for awhile. I've been pretty noncommittal for several elections. I eventually pick a favorite but I'm not invested in the campaigns. Clinton was clearly a better speaker than GHW Bush and ran a better campaign, but was not a significantly better choice in '92. In retrospect both Bush 41 and Clinton were pretty good presidents. GW Bush ran a better campaign than Gore (how did he lose that election?) but again was not necessarily a better choice. Last time in 2008 Obama had the advantage of a broken economy, no incumbent and a weak opponent. How could McCain be such a boob when he finally got his chance? He forgot what made him a viable candidate. Does anyone think Sarah Palin was a good VP choice? Does anybody think she was near ready to be president if McCain couldn't finish his term? I know 12 year olds who were better informed than Palin. I was also thrilled that we had a viable Black candidate. A great milestone in our history, like in 1960 when we elected a Catholic and again someone in their 40's.
Now we come to this election in 2012. I just don't know. Once again I'm disappointed with the incumbent but unlike with Jimmy Carter in 1980, I'm not sure there is a better choice. One of my big problems is that I am not a far left Democrat or far right Republican. I'm mostly socially liberal and fiscally conservative although that definition doesn't always fit either. I like Everett Dirksen Republicans and Mike Mansfield Democrats (I probably lost many of you with that reference). The days when compromise wasn't a four letter word. Reagan's entire two terms had Democratic Houses led by Tip O'Neill (a relative of mine). Clinton, in his second term, dealt with a Republican House led by Newt Gingrich. They still got things done. The parties have skewed to the extremes in the past decade, particularly during the primaries. I'm old enough to remember moderate and even liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. In fact up until about 1980 and Reagan the South was almost 100% Democratic, conservative Democratic or even Dixiecrat, but Democratic none the less. For those of you who don't know why, it's because the South was still pissed at Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, for over a hundred years. Fallout from that little Civil War skirmish and Reconstruction. Around 1980 they figured out that they had really been Republicans for several decades. Read the biographies of the Reagan Republicans and you'll find that many of them, including Reagan, started out at Democrats. Almost every southern politician over 55 or 60, Rick (no cattle) Perry included, switched parties when the conservative tide changed in their state. That's OK with me since they didn't significantly change their views, just their party.
Partisanship is not new. It was rampant in the 1930's and 40's. My father hated Democrats and particularly Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). That was passed down from his folks who were "dyed in the wool" Republicans. Some day I'll write about my paternal grandfather and certain Republican politicians he was in business with, some of them were even legal. Mom was more a casual Republican. Dad was such a hard-ass that when we moved to Florida in the 1950's he still registered as a Republican even though there were no Republican politicians or primary elections. They were all conservative Democrats back then (remember the Abe Lincoln reference earlier). Mom was way more pragmatic and registered as a Democrat so she would have a say in the local and state governments. I'm not sure Dad ever forgave her for that. He always voted straight Republican tickets including when Catholic JFK ran. Even though Dad was totally Republican, his beloved party had some wiggle room and could actually compromise with the opposition. It seems there is no longer any wiggle room. You are either for or against. Compromise is defeat. Both parties are guilty of this thinking and strategy.
I think Congress, the House and Senate, will still be divided at the end of the elections. If Obama is re-elected will the House continue to stonewall legislation? If Romney wins, will the Senate become the roadblock? I sure hope not, whichever scenario plays out. I want something to get done. Reduce our debt, get the economy going, get the hell out Iraq and Afghanistan and fix the immigration mess. Four things, that's all you clowns have to work on. Sure, there are a bunch of other issues but our esteemed representatives can't agree on anything so let's work on those four first.
As I write this in mid-September, the election is much in doubt. The polls fluctuate day to day, but mostly within the margin of error. Between now and election day, November 6th, they will continue to change. That's the nature of our 24/7 news cycle and constant campaign environment. Everything will be over analyzed by “experts” telling us what the candidates really meant and what they were thinking. Obama and/or Romney will put their foot in their mouth, a new economic or jobs report will come out, a foreign situation will erupt or some scandal (real or perceived) could come to light. Any of these could favor or hurt one of the candidates a little or completely seal the election.
I wish we had a clearcut leader between the candidates, which is what the country needs, not just shades of gray differences between professional politicians. I'm getting old enough that whatever happens in this election with the gridlock, the debt, the unemployment rates, the immigration mess and our wars will have very little effect on me. Unfortunately and very fortunately, I have children, one in the Armed Forces, step-children, grandchildren, family and friends that are not in their final trimester. For all of them we need leaders who will fix this mess.
I guess once again I'll make up my mind the day of the elections. I hope between now and 2016 a real leader emerges and the environment in Washington changes.