So here came the Gipper, who presided over what was then the largest run of deficit spending in post-WWII history, yet was and is a hero to fiscal conservatives everywhere. Who spoke about morning in America, then commenced the wholesale dismantling of the American social safety net. Who rarely made very much sense, except when he was tightly on script, yet was hailed as a great orator. He fulfilled Truman's prediction2 in spades.
Walter Mondale ran in my first presidential election, in 1984 when I was 20. He was uninspiring, insipid, an old machine man from the classic days of party politics. His running mate was visibly mobbed up. I know the opposition party doesn't usually try very hard in a second-term election against a popular president, but the only reason I voted for Mondale was to vote against Reagan.
Come 1988, Dukakis ran against Bush (41). I never could figure out what Dukakis stood for, except being a generic Democrat. Maybe I wasn't paying attention. Once again, I was voting against the Reagan legacy. We got the first Bush term, with such stellar moments as the Weinberger pardon. Iran-Contra. Various acts of moronic venality. It was all the corruption and incompetence of the Reagan administration, with none of the charm!
In 1992, Clinton was a no-brainer. Not because I was for Bill, but in effect, I was still voting against the Reagan legacy. Bill was interesting, but he wasn't really a liberal. He was just a not-conservative. He came into office, the Scaife-backed batshit machine cranked up, and a generation of Republicans grew up hating Hillary for doing exactly what Nancy Reagan had done in the White House, except classier and far more competently. (Anybody remember Joan Quigley? At least Bill took his cues from a trained attorney with an understanding of public policy.)
1996, Bob Dole was the Republican Walter Mondale. Apparently it was "his turn." I mostly felt sorry for him. Bill I voted for just to keep pissing off the Right.
2000, well, the less said about that the better. Suffice to say the breathtaking hypocrisy of the GOP achieved stratospheric heights in the post-election fracas.3 And those of us who'd lived in Texas without drinking the Republican bathwater were perfectly clear on what the country was getting into. Unfortunately, my first moment of enthusiasm for Gore was his concession speech, which was more clear-eyed and inspirational than any damned thing he'd said on the campaign. I had been so bored by him that I'd voted for Nader.
2004, the handwriting was on the wall, on the Constitution, on habeas corpus. I finally realized the Gipper's old White House gang were a church picnic compared to the neo-cons in all their glory. I voted for Kerry because there was nothing else I could do, but damned if he wasn't Walter Mondale come again.
2008. Even a fair number of conservatives seem to have woken up to the disaster than their rule has visited upon America. The field in the Democratic party is constructively interesting to me. Initially I had a mild preference for Edwards. In retrospect, I probably would have liked Dodd if I'd known much about him. But Obama's campaign has caught on with me. His internationalism, his generally constructive approach, even his oratory. He seems to approach politics as a leader, not a brawler. After a generation of winner-take-all brawling in presidential politics, I cannot help but like this. And Hillary's recent slide into smash-mouth machine politics tipped it for me.
So today I gave money to the Obama campaign. This is the first time in my life I've been sufficiently attracted to a candidate to do anything of the sort. I've always voted against, and I'm excited about the possibility of voting for.
Here's my challenge to you. Go give some money to whoever you believe in. I hope it's Obama, but it can be Hillary or McCain or Romney or one of the other candidates. Go do something for your next national leader, not against.
I'm still surprised with myself, and very pleased.
1. This was long before I understood the beauty contest nature of presidential debates, or how incredibly brokered they are — remember the 1988 Bush campaign's uncompromising opposition to Dukakis having a taller riser to stand on?
2. "I can remember when a good politician had to be 75 percent ability and 25 percent actor, but I can well see the day when the reverse could be true."
3. Not to beat a dead horse, but for my perspective then, see: