Friday, January 22, 2016

I Was a Teenage Republican (And So Was Hillary)

Thanks, y'all.
As kid growing up in Abilene, Texas with a very large and very conservative extended family, you can probably guess where my political sympathies were steered in the late 80s and early 90s.

I hate to say it, but I didn’t much care for Michael Dukakis when I was 12. And I really hate to admit that I also didn’t much care for Ann Richards when I was 14. There was no burning hatred or anything for either of them, it’s just that I was surrounded by a lot of heavy Republican influence and that mindset rubbed off on me. Plus, I was just a kid.

But while you can’t choose your family or place of birth, you can choose to take in more information about the world around you and make up your own mind as you get a little older. And there’s hardly a better time to do this than your teenage years.

So it was with me...when Bill Clinton pretty much instantaneously turned me into a Democrat one day in early 1992.

Yeah, it really was that quick. All it took was a report about him on an evening news program, which also featured a portion of his stump speech, for me to instinctively ditch any lingering fandom of the first President Bush and realize that the governor of Arkansas should be the next president. Looking back, I can’t remember what it was exactly...his overall vibe, his optimism about still believing in "a place called Hope", his talking points about the economy...but whatever it was, it worked.

My immediate next move was walking into the other room to ask my mom if she had heard of this Clinton guy. It turns out she had...and she definitely wasn’t a fan. I loved my mom then just as much as I do now, but that was the exact moment when the Great Political Split occurred.

I was truly shocked at how big a deal it was for even one Democrat to exist among my mom’s large extended family. Soon enough, it became the new normal for several of my aunts, uncles and cousins to loudly and vehemently to argue with me about this stuff at family gatherings. I was never the confrontational one, but I always responded when challenged and held my ground. This went on for years...until they eventually learned to not even start with me, which was probably a good idea.

There was one notable exception, however: my late father Jim (1931-2007), a lifelong yellow dog who steadfastly voted for Democrats in every single election because they were “good for the working man”. Though he had been divorced from my mom since I was four years old, he still lived very close by…and it sure was nice knowing I wasn’t alone. Later on, another great memory from that election was shared just between the two of us as we watched the November results roll in at his apartment. I’ll never forget the joy and relief in his voice as he said “we won, son”.

From there, I haven’t looked back.

I strongly supported Ann Richards for reelection in 1994, and was delighted to meet her while attending my first-ever political rally. I wrote op-eds supporting Clinton in my high school and college newspapers in 1995 and 1996. I’ve strongly supported Democrats up and down the ballot for twenty years. And now I’m committed to electing another Democrat to make history as the first female President of the United States in 2016...just as I did eight years ago.

Having fun with some friends on Texas Primary Day, March 2008.
So when I hear some people criticize Hillary for being a Republican when she was a friggin’ teenager, it strikes a particularly ill chord with me. Is everyone really supposed to emerge out of the womb a full-blown progressive activist in order to be authentic? Is the party affiliation that I’ve had my entire adult life somehow less legitimate because it took me a little while to get there? On the contrary, I would argue that my background helps me better understand the conservative mindset — and why it’s wrong — because for a good while I went along with it myself.

So yes: Strongly influenced by her staunchly Republican father, Hillary Rodham supported Barry Goldwater for president as a teenager in 1964. But by 1968, she was volunteering for anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy. And in the summer of 1972, she and her future husband traveled all the way to south Texas to work for the George McGovern campaign.

From there, she hasn’t looked back either. And I totally get it...maybe more than most.

I’m sure there are tons of young people across the nation in heavily Republican families who are hearing Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or possibly even Martin O’Malley speak for the first time and feeling some of the same things I did in 1992. That’s awesome and necessary for so many reasons, and I hope we can all agree that questioning your original beliefs and evolving as you get older is a good thing. You might even know one of these bright youngsters yourself, and if so, be sure and let them know that they aren’t alone.

As for myself, I can say unequivocally that becoming a Democrat as a teenager changed the course of my entire life in ways that extend far beyond politics...and I have Bill Clinton to thank for flipping the switch.

And while I strongly support Hillary in 2016 for countless reasons, the fact that she’s also a Clinton can’t help but make this all the more intense and personal for me.

So here I am.

9 comments:

  1. Great article. I didn't identify with any political party until the Clintons came on the scene in 1991-1992, and from then on, I knew I was a Democrat.

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    1. Thanks. I'm sure Bill changed a lot of young minds along with mine!

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  2. Awesome, thanks for sharing that! My parents were teachers, so I did grow up a progressive. I can still especially relate to one part of your story, though. I was brought up going to church and Sunday school. As an adult it's not my cup of tea, but I don't regret learning about the literature and developing an appreciation for religious music. And I do understand about devotion and faith; the strength that can be drawn from it but also the unwillingness to explore new ideas. Moving on from that, I agree: Bill Clinton brought a new sense of optimism that was really lacking in that period. Hillary for me is less charismatic, but in some ways seeming to have even more depth of thought and compassion.

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    1. Yeah, hardly anyone can speak as well as Bill...but Hillary is more the introverted policy wonk. I may identify with her more for that reason!

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  3. I was 22 when Bill was elected president. I was a dem before he became president

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  4. Your dad would be proud.
    This is a great site and a welcome respite from the hateful, misogynistic ravings of the Bernie Stans and the Trump supporters elsewhere.
    I am not an American but if I were I would be out there campaigning for this amazing woman and doing my part to ensure her election.
    I have followed the careers of both Bill and Hillary Clinton from his first run for the White House and I have long admired her ability to withstand everything the right-wing hate machine has thrown at them both.
    Hillary is by far the most qualified candidate for the office and she has the skill and fortitude to be a brilliant leader.
    I look forward to raising my glass to Madam President in November.

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    1. Thanks, Laura. Glad you like the site and I hope you will keep commenting!

      It's gonna be a worldwide megaparty on Nov 8 when the election is called for Madam President!

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  5. I hear that goldwater girl garbage on lefty sites all the time. she was 16 years old. most kids that age follow their parents politics. once she got to college she went dem.

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    1. And that was only the beginning of her ongoing progressive journey!

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