I didn't grow up in an extremely political or partisan household. I was born in 1963, and my parents were both Democrats, albeit fairly conservative ones for the times. They did, though, read the newspaper religiously and watch the political coverage on television. Our TV got all three major networks, PBS, and something called Channel 2 (which mostly aired re-runs of popular shows and Saturday afternoon horror flicks). My mom and dad would discuss politics and candidates -- sometimes in a very spirited way -- in the presence of my sisters and I. I also liked to sit with my dad when he watched the political commentators and debates. My parents always encouraged us kids to participate in their discussions and form our own opinions. In my extended family -- which was fairly large and fairly Italian -- not many people were timid. We all enjoyed the good "argument" -- whether it be about politics or religion or morality or education or whatever.
I was aware, therefore, from a fairly young age, that politics involved quite a bit of contention and, often, scandal. I watched the candidates and their allies spar, often quite viciously, over issues. There were great divisions in the country and among politicians, concerning Vietnam, Watergate, the energy crisis, sexual ethics, welfare, taxes, etc. Sometimes, as a little girl, I got the impression that the candidates running against each other actually hated each other.
But, do you know what I started to notice? Do you know what really struck me, more than any of the great and pressing issues of the day and how they were resolved (or left unresolved)? I remember watching the candidates, after the election results came in, speak about each other and to each other. They would shake hands, if they were in the same place. They would say good and positive things about each other, praising each other. They would talk about how the campaign was well-done and hard-fought. But, then they would say that it was time to come together as a people and a nation, in support of the candidate who had just won. They would impress upon us how important it was to the current and future state of our country that we remember that we needed to respect each other and work together, even if we had different views. I know that candidates still say things like this, but somehow, back then, they seemed to mean it more. Maybe they seemed to walk the talk a little better, at least to my young eyes.
Do you know, though, why this impressed me so much? Because even though I could appreciate and even enjoy the political contests, they did make me a bit uneasy. The cantankerous spirit of the campaigns, though interesting, did make me feel a little anxious about the state of my home, my country. But, when I saw the candidates come together, in a unified fashion, when the election results came in, it made me feel like everything was going to be okay. It gave me confidence and hope in the future. It made me feel like our nation was being run by responsible adults, who truly cared about the well-being of the citizens.
And when I look at our political culture presently -- especially this week, with the government "shutdown" and all -- I really wish we could get some of that spirit back. I wish we could start to behave -- from the top down -- as one, indivisible nation.