Monday, November 03, 2008

My First Vote

I come from a family of yellow-dog Democrats. We are from the McGovern die-hard wing of the party. My youth was devoted to the overthrow of the Nixon Regime, and we were among the majority (for once) who welcomed Jimmy Carter's restoration of morality.

Nonetheless, for my first election, I registered as a Republican. I guess I have always been drawn toward the vital center, even before I had the concept. I had been reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt just before the primary in 1980. I wanted that party. Moreover, in rural New Jersey, there weren't even enough Democrats to hold a primary. So I cast my first vote for John Anderson.

In the fall of 1980, my first presidential election, I was a Quaker at Swarthmore College -- about as deep into what we would now call "blue America" as it would be possible to get. The campus was overwhelmingly political, and overwhelmingly Democratic. The night before the election, the college showed a film in the main auditorium attended by most of the student body: "Bedtime for Bonzo," starring Ronald Reagan and a chimp. On the Tuesday, I happily voted for Jimmy Carter, and went to a church committee meeting.

By the time the meeting was over, the election had been called. The unthinkable had happened: Ronald Reagan was president. The many election parties on campus turned into wakes. The animal house fraternity, the one bastion of Republicans on campus, marched from one Democratic gathering to another, singing songs about Reagan and paratroopers, getting drunker and drunker.

What happened to the Democratic Party after that, in the micro at Swarthmore and in the macro on the national level, was a down-hearted round of recriminations and second-guessing. And then we rebuilt, and came back better. And more centrist.

I believe the same thing will happen to the Republican Party this year that happened to Democrats after 1980. And ultimately this will be good for the country.

2 comments:

Michael Kruse said...

1980 was my first presidential election and I too voted for Anderson, although I was in a context where Reagan was all the rage. It was the Religious Right political events on campus that year that (in part) lead to my departure into the PCUSA three years later.

professorpolisci said...

I am a lifelong Republican with very centrist leanings. I first voted in 1984 (for Reagan), wrestled with my vote for Bush in 1988, went to Perot in '92, and abstained in '04. Today, I voted for Change We Can Believe In. My journey is complete and I hope you are correct that the GOP will reform itself after this election.