How can I possibly write something funny about this presidential campaign? It’s Election Day and I’m more nervous than when I started my job as a reporter at the Coshocton Tribune, the only time in my life that I was too nervous to eat. My mom took me to dinner after helping me move into my apartment and I sat at the Old Tyme Country Kitchen Buffet with a plate of food and pushed my spork into a pile of mashed potatoes with a shaky hand, but couldn’t take a bite. And for someone who ate her way through three labors and snarfed down cheese fries and two brownies an hour before her wedding, let’s be clear on this: I was nervous.
But it’s worse today. I’ve been really excited about Barack Obama for president since July 2007. I’ve knocked on doors of scary, cranky old people who almost made me cry with their conservative name-calling. (Don’t they know I’m a nice Hubbard girl?) I marched in parades, I carried signs, I attended rallies, and I’ve called people on the phone to ask them if they’ve voted yet, despite my strong aversion to making phone calls.
My son Mike says it’s a nervousness-excitement combo that’s a little bit like Christmas, except you don’t know if you’re going to wake up tomorrow morning and find out you got presents, or AIDS.
So here we are on Election Day and if all this work and thousands of hours spent in front of the TV watching polls and pundits is for naught, I’m going to be one TO’d middle-aged white woman Democrat. And I might cry.
I’d really like to invite someone over to watch results with me, because if Obama wins I’ll want to be around lots of people, ones who can stay up past 11 p.m. But if he loses I’ll be moaning in a fetal position in my bed, so that won’t work.
My background in politics is probably typical. There are people who know less about politics than me (like my one friend I won’t name, who during a game of Trivial Pursuit, when asked “Which US president declared Labor Day to be a legal holiday?” answered “Winston Churchill.”) and there are people who know lots and lots more about politics than me (like Charles Gibson. I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly sure what the Bush Doctrine was myself.)
My first experience with presidential elections was in 1968 when my friend Nancy and I put together a Eugene McCarthy campaign. Nancy was always orchestrating some kind of show, project or performance - she was like one of the Cowsills - and it was during Democratic primary season so we made some signs and marched around my neighborhood singing a song we made up (Nancy was famous for making up songs. A future blog will go into more about Nancy, our phone call to Davy Jones from the Monkees, and the songs we made up pretending we were members of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority at Youngstown State). The song we made up for McCarthy went to the tune of a cigarette TV commercial jingle:
Vote up for McCarthy, vote up!
Vote up for McCarthy, everybody vote up!
Put your vote for him
And he’ll surely win,
Vote up for McCarthy, everybody vote up!
The Balestrino sisters, Janet and Judy, were jealous, so they made up their own signs and chanted “Vote for Snoopy . . . Vote for Snoopy . . .” We didn’t speak for a week.
Despite our intense ground game, McCarthy didn’t get the Democratic nomination in 1968 (he did however come in ahead of Snoopy and the others from the Peanuts gang). Instead we were looking at Richard Nixon vs Hubert Humphrey. In my fourth grade class we had a mock election and we were supposed to pick a candidate to support. I was leaning toward Humphrey because he had that friendly squishy face, but then Joey Blazak came up to me in the lunch line and said, “Who are you for?”
“Humphrey,” I said.
“I’m thinking about being for Wallace,” he mused. “If you be for Wallace, I’ll be for Wallace.”
“OK,” I said. I didn’t know anything about Wallace, but I apparently did know a little something about peer pressure and the fickle mind of the fourth-grade voter.
So I went home from school that day and was telling my mom about my day while she was scrubbing our cellar steps. I can still picture her on her hands and knees, a bucket of Lysol water next to her, a cig in her mouth, when I said, “Yeah, so I’m for Wallace now.”
Almost getting a bucket of Lysol water on your best plaid jumper doesn’t even begin to describe the peril I had put myself in by mentioning that I would even think about being “for” George Wallace, famous racist and not exactly what being a Laney girl is all about. We don’t do bigotry.
So I had to go back to school and say I was for Humphrey, but at least now I had a clear idea of why I was for him.
The next presidential election was 1972 and my sister Kathy, who was in college, did door-to-door canvassing and intense campaigning for George McGovern. She told me that we could never be for Nixon for a number of reasons, one being that he had somebody break into a hotel and steal information about McGovern’s campaign. I took this tidbit of information and used it in an informal debate with Sue Walker around a middle school media center table, but nobody knew what I was talking about, including me.
Then came 1976 and the first time I could vote. I proudly voted for Jimmy Carter and may be the only person who doesn’t squint when admitting that. I loved and continue to love Jimmy Carter. That election was followed by my votes for more Democratic presidential candidates, some better than others. (Did I vote for Olympia Dukakis’ cousin or did I dream that?)
This election I’ve donated a lot of my money and time, but mostly my emotions, in an effort to get Obama elected. My mother would have been so excited if she were still here to see this. I have conversations with her as I knock on doors, drop literature, or even watch campaign news coverage.
Tonight, if Obama loses the election, she’ll pat my fetal head and say, “That’s OK, honey, Republicans fight dirty.”
And if he wins, I think she and Humphrey will be doing the fist bump.
Labels: 1968 election, 1972 election, barack obama, Election Day, George McGovern, George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, Presidential race 08, Youngstown State University, Zeta Tau Alpha sorority