This is the story of a 6 year old girl who was the product of a mixed marriage between a staunch Republican father and unflinching Democrat mother. Let’s call the girl Deirdre.
In the weeks leading up to the November 1972 presidential election, Deirdre learned about the importance of voting in Mrs. Anderson’s Kindergarten class at Canon Elementary. It only reinforced what her grandmother – a devoted member of the League of Women Voters –had been preaching to her since almost the day she first could talk. So when Mrs. Anderson announced that there would be a mock presidential election, Little Deirdre took the responsibility seriously.
Although politics fueled some of their most fervent debates, Deirdre’s parents had long ago given up swaying each others’ partisan proclivities. When their daughter told them of the mock election, both of them saw within their progeny a new opportunity to rewrite the familial political landscape…and each took passionately to swaying Deirdre to vote for their candidate.
Deirdre’s father explained to her how Republicans want a smaller government that doesn’t interfere in your right to live your life as you see fit so she should vote for Nixon. Her mother argued in favor of McGovern and the Democrats, explaining that her party believes in taking care of everyone. Deirdre’s father argued that the Republicans would make sure we are safe, with a strong defense department which would thwart communists and all other threats alike. Deirdre’s mother argued that strong and cooperative foreign policy would save us…not guns and bombs. On and on the parents lobbied for their particular candidate and party until little Deirdre came to make a decision…leaving one parent elated and the other utterly defeated.
Mrs. Anderson warmed up to The Big Election with some lesser practice elections based on a show of hands. One day, the students voted on favorite ice cream flavors, with chocolate being the winner, vanilla, a close second and strawberry a respectable third. (Deirdre voted vanilla.) Another day it was Sesame Street vs. Electric Company. (Deirdre, a progressive child, voted Electric Company based on the strength of Rita Moreno’s performance in the opening credits.) So when Election Day showed up on November 7, 1972, all of Mrs. Anderson’s students – including Deirdre – were well versed in the electoral process of Kindergarten.
On the big day, Mrs. Anderson asked first, “Who is voting for Richard Nixon?” Every hand in the class shot up…except one. Mrs. Anderson then asked, “Who is voting for George McGovern?” Deirdre’s small hand rose confidently – nay, defiantly – above her head, even as her cheeks grew red and the indignation within her rose to the surface. How could her mother have led her so astray? It was her first hard lesson in having the courage to go against the tide…to go your own damn way — even when that makes you the lone democrat in a crowd of very conservative, pro-Nixon kindergarteners.
As we all know, much of the nation felt the same way as Mrs. Anderson’s kindergarten class, and Richard Nixon won the election by a landslide. (Cold comfort for a father who took no joy in his daughter’s political leanings nor the devastation of her defeat.) But a couple of years later, Deirdre felt vindicated as Watergate Hearings preempted afternoon cartoons…and certainly there was justice in believing that her candidate never would have caused such an inconvenience to school children everywhere.
That was my very first lesson in authenticity…and it has set the tone for much of my life. Perhaps it is to my benefit that I learned so early on that going against the mainstream may be uncomfortable – but it won’t kill you. I’ve often made decisions in my life that go against common wisdom, and my life’s path has often been non-conventional. But I’d like to think that George McGovern would be pleased to know that he made a difference in my life and the twisting path it has taken. (He also taught me without a doubt that ballot stations with walls and curtains are far better than a show of hands in a public forum.) Godspeed, Senator…and thank you for lessons learned early on.