“Nixon’s in the White House ready to be elected, Kennedy’s in the trash can ready to be collected”. These words, a common jumprope rhyme I learned as a kindergartner, were probably my first introduction to the world of politics. Of course the two names’ position in the rhyme could be reversed depending on your political persuasion. But what five year old actually has a political persuasion? I put Nixon’s name first when chanting this rhyme because that is the name I heard my parents use favorably at home on the rare occasions that politics were discussed there. Nixon was not elected in that 1960 race, losing to John F. Kennedy by .17% of the popular vote. By the time Richard Nixon was ultimately successful in garnering enough votes to ascend to the highest office in the land in 1968, the political climate had become a chaotic brew of cultural and political upheaval. There were protests over racial inequalities, women’s rights, and of course, America’s continuing involvement in the Vietnam War and the drafting of more than half a million young men to flight a war they little understood.
I was in Junior high school at the time and although I still wasn’t yet politically savvy, I was all in when some of my classmates decided we needed to have a “sit-in” on the quad. During our lunch break they recruited as many as possible to join the protest. By the time the bell rang for us to return to class in the afternoon, there were perhaps a hundred or more gathered on the lawn determined to remain until our demands were met. I couldn’t tell you what those demands were exactly, it just seemed like a very hip thing to do. Our resolve quickly evaporated when the vice principal came out with his bull horn and threaten to suspend any student who failed to return to their assigned classrooms. Although this protest was a bust, it did inspire me to learn more about the issues that were seminal to my generation. I ran for Girl’s Athletic Association just before my senior in high school. I did not win, but I also learn a lot from the process. Not long after that my older brother Roger received his draft number.
I was just 17 when Nixon ran for and won a second term in 1972 so I was unable to vote. I probably would have registered as a republican, the party of my parents, but I remember being very disillusioned by President Nixon’s first term and his failure to end our participation in Vietnam. I did not want to lose my brother to a war that made no sense to me. Still, two years later when it was announced that Vice President Gerald Ford would be visiting our home town of Santa Clarita, I made sure I got one of the tickets for his scheduled speech on August 9th at Cal Arts. On August 8th, 1974 Richard Nixon announced his resignation from the presidency in the face of almost certain impeachment. So on August 9th, Gerald Ford did not make it to Santa Clarita as scheduled, instead he was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States at noon in the White House.
I finally got to see a future president in person when Barack Obama held a campaign rally at the Bangor Auditorium on February 8th, 2008. And I may be among a relatively small number of people who can say they have witnessed two future presidents in person on the very same day. You see, my husband and I also attended a Hillary Clinton campaign rally earlier in the day at the Student Fitness and Recreation Center on the University of Maine just 10 miles away in Orono. While there are a great many things about the current campaigns that trouble me, I do believe it is important that we participate in the process so that we can make an informed decision. The future of our country demands no less scrutiny.