As the “silly season of politics” hardly feels silly anymore, I am reminded that no matter the outcome, my vote matters. I’ve always voted based on what I knew at the time, and what was important to me. Reflecting back on my voting record, I can see how my priorities have changed as my life has progressed.
As I recall, this is how and why I voted in each election:
1980: Reagan vs. Carter. This was the first presidential election in which I could cast my vote. I was in my senior year at the U.S. Naval Academy. Although President Carter was a Naval Academy alumni, the Iran Hostage Crisis had already been going on for a year. Despite the USNA connection with Carter, Reagan’s call for a larger, stronger military seemed like a good thing to someone about to enter the fleet. 1980: Reagan.
1984: Mondale vs. Reagan. I was well into my Navy career and had experienced firsthand the thrill of raw military power and a return to dignity for those who wore a military uniform. I couldn’t put my pants on fast enough in the morning to go fight the Soviets. I believed a 600 ship Navy assured a better chance at world peace, as well as peace of mind as Leigh and I were preparing to welcome our son Chris to the world. 1984: Reagan.
1988: Dukakis vs. Bush. I got sober in early 1988 and spent most of that first year focused on staying that way. I’m sure I voted, and fairly sure I voted in line with my reflexively-Republican voting record. 1988: Bush. (Pretty sure)
1992: Clinton vs. Bush vs. Perot. I left the Navy in 1989 and embarked on a civilian career. After 30 years (my father was a career Naval officer) of government provided healthcare, I was not prepared for the healthcare decisions, and resulting costs, I would be faced with. What I thought was a lateral move financially, in fact translated to a 30% pay cut. Heath care costs in the real world were really staggering. Although I didn’t fully understand all of billionaire H. Ross Perot’s arguments against unfair trade agreements, the fellow Naval Academy alumni eerily foreshadowed economic peril due to foreign lobbyists, healthcare costs and that “giant sucking sound of jobs heading south”. I just knew he was on to something. For the first time, I broke from my straight Republican voting record. 1992: Perot.
1996: Dole vs Clinton vs. Perot. This was my first election “post cancer”. As a 100% commission salesman, I had spent September 1994-October 1995 dancing with Stage III-B Hodgkins Lymphoma and was unable to provide for my family. Cancer is not a very good closing tool. We relied on family, community charity, and Leigh’s part time job as a preschool teacher to keep us from declaring bankruptcy. As a part time employee, the only benefit Leigh had was the ability to buy healthcare insurance at cost. In short, her $7,500 a year job allowed us to buy $8,500 a year insurance coverage.
I spent more time in that year fretting over my inability to provide for my family than someone given a 15% chance of living beyond two years should. While I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, quite frankly, there were moments in confronting my inadequacy during this cancer dance when I just wanted to be dead.
My sensitivity to healthcare costs are based on my personal experience. In 1996 I left my “You eat what you kill” commission sales job and took a position with a large company. Although healthcare benefits were offered, I learned future treatment costs associated with preexisting conditions would not have been. Had my cancer returned, I would be screwed. We declined the insurance benefit and continued to buy insurance through Leigh’s job. The letter below was simply the best peace of mind we could get.
Hillary-care and other social programs were lambasted by the political right as a certain death knell to the American economy. In my heart I knew there had to be a better way and longed for the simplicity of the government healthcare plan I was born into, and my children were born into, during the first 30 years of my life. That being said, the Clinton legacy was unappealing, and my distaste for most things political grew. 1996: Perot.
2000. Bush- Gore. Gore’s connection to the Clinton era and his claim to have invented the internet was too strong for my taste. Although generally offended by the growing financial influence of the Christian right in politics, Bush seemed to be the lesser of two evils. I was healthy, busy providing for my family, and I allowed myself to buy into the fear that a Democratic president would single-handedly bring the economy to a screeching halt and threaten my ability to support my family. This was not my proudest moment as a voter. 2000: Bush
2004. Bush-Kerry. Post 9-11 election. Despite his “answering to a higher authority” pandering to the Christian right wing, my reflexive-Republican proclivities prevailed with Bush’s then rising popularity; this in spite of my dismay at the shockingly elusive weapons of mass destruction and more tangible mounting American casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. After the string of Democratic contenders (i.e. Howard Dean and John Edwards) fell by the wayside, survivor Kerry felt like a third-rate choice anyway. 2004: Bush
2008. Obama-McCain. You know you’re getting old when you legitimately have a personal connection to both candidates. In 2008, I was 49 and both children had graduated from college. McCain, yet another graduate of the Naval Academy, was a POW during the Viet Nam war. The leadership at the Academy during my 4 years included a significant number of his fellow POW’s. I was in awe of their firsthand accounts of personal strength, courage, and survival while in captivity.
After about 30 seconds, I was not in awe of McCain’s running mate, the inimitable Sarah “pit bull with lipstick” Palin.
On the other hand Obama had grown up in Hawaii. He dated my neighbor Betsy Esser. His grandfather worked for her dad, Frank, in the insurance industry. Despite his Illinois political background, I could hear the echoes of Obama’s Hawaii ohana culture whispering like an island breeze through the palm trees. It was familiar and appealing. More specifically, the recollection of his mother fighting with health insurance companies from her bed rang true for me. The man had lived through the same set of fears and pain I had more than a decade before his nomination. 2008: Obama
2012. Romney-Obama. The influence of the fundamentalist Christian right-wing clan manifested, incredulously, in the Republican nomination of a Mormon, Mitt Romney. (Honestly, I Googled “Is Mormonism a Christian faith?” just to be sure I had my own facts straight.) Oh to be a fly on the wall to see heads exploding when the right-wingers sobered up from its fear-and-hatred cocktail binge and realized they had endorsed a non-Christian! I know the message of hope must seem like a foreign concept for new voters to consider, but I bought it then, and I’m still enjoying it now. I have a job with benefits that includes healthcare coverage with no restrictions on my pre-existing condition. Thanks Obama! 2012: Obama.
2016: Well, here we are in the silly season that just doesn’t feel so silly anymore. Despite the fear-selling by fundamentalist right-wingers, I can honestly, and shamelessly, say that I am better off today than I was 8 years ago. I know that Trump is to most conservatives what the Westboro Baptist Church is to most Christians; a relative you can’t really deny, but would rather they not get the headlines. But right now – he is the guy that seems to represent the conservative majority. Am I the only one who thinks Trump is running just to get Hillary Clinton elected? I called B.S. on his intentions in December. We’ll see how this plays out.
In my view, with the exception of John Kasich, who doesn’t appear to be electable, Sarah Palin would actually be a saner choice than any other candidate for the Republican nomination. Let that sit for a moment.
On the Democratic side, I’m reminded by Bernie Sanders’ life story, and his policies, that Jesus was a Jew, not a fundamentalist mired in centuries of dogma. He actually has a plan that sounds like it’s inspired by the Sermon on the Mount. Is America ready for a Jew as president? I wish, but I doubt it.
As for Hillary, she seems to have everything wired to go her way. I’m not necessarily a fan. Having said that, perhaps this is the time for a woman to be president. More importantly, perhaps she simply is the best qualified for the job.
I’m nearly 57 years old and a grandfather; I look at life differently than in any time in my voting history. While the current state of affairs seems to me to be marked by Darwinistic and xenophobic rhetoric, all is not lost. It never is. We are a great nation because we can vote. In November there will likely be two, maybe three, candidates for President. I’ll be there voting for one of them. The only thing voting assures me is the right to bitch about the system. If I don’t vote – I forfeit my right to bitch.
I hope my grand kids will all have the right to vote as well.