I was thinking today of what are my primary memories of election days in the past and of the emotions connected to them. I’m surprised at what most stands out to me year by year, and by how some of the oldest memories are the most vivid.
1960 – I was only five years old. I remember going to the polls with my parents and remember them saying that they did not see any Nixon signs. As I put out our Republican signs today at my assigned location – Williamsport High School – an activity that seems rather worthless to me, I do recall this memory and that people at least hope to see their guy’s sign nearby. My parents were historic Democrats – FDR types – though they became Republican in later years as the Democrat Party increasingly walked away from their historic values. However, my parents also were of a mindset common at that time that they could not vote for a Catholic.
1964 – My parents were not much for Goldwater – he creeped them out! Our voting location in NJ was at a firehouse just up the road and next to the school. The women’s auxiliary put on a fundraising dinner that my parents enjoyed, as it was the whole community coming together for the meal as well as to vote. I remember enjoying this much and being there with school friends.
1968 – This is actually one of my clearest Election Day memories, and some of you who know of my relative distaste for the sport of soccer will be so surprised. I was playing a soccer game on this day against a rival school. And this may take some imagination, but I was actually a very good front-line player and scorer. It was a close game. I had missed several shots and even hit the supports twice. With about 15 seconds left in a scoreless overtime I hit a shot off the crossbeam and it ricocheted back to another forward who easily put it in the goal. The midfield celebration was one who gave me the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in one moment. A backfield guy jumped on the pile and as his hand swung around it smacked the side of my head and broke my glasses. (This is before contacts – and I broke glasses in sports about once a month – to the frustration and anger of my parents.) So my memory is of eating dinner at the firehouse with busted glasses and angry parents about that … but happy that Nixon won. They really liked Nixon.
1972 – As a high school senior, I was totally involved in preparation for the state cross country meet – amazing how some things don’t change over the years. It was a runaway win for Nixon over McGovern, and was not actually that interesting
1976 – As a college senior, I was working the graveyard shift on building security. I was doing my rounds of the building every hour all night and watching the returns on the dorm’s foyer TV in the moments in between. We all mostly believed that Carter was more of an informed Christian than he turned out to be. What a disappointment!
1980 – Now married and living in Dallas and attending seminary, it was my first time to vote away from home. It was the big Reagan Revolution year, and Diana and I waited in long, long lines to vote in a high school in Garland, Texas. By the time we got home, it was all over and being announced, and was rather anti-climatic.
1984 – This was a total Reagan wipeout of Mondale, and I have few memories of it. I was now living back in NJ (and voting at the new firehouse in the same township) and more involved in making a first ministry work and dealing with two little children and a newly built home.
1988 – This begins the first of a series of Republican candidates that I deemed to be certainly better than Democrat alternatives, but not whom I’d particularly prefer. I don’t have that many memories of the Election Day itself … just that it seemed at the time that the Democrats were totally lost and devoid of ideas and viable candidates.
1992 – This was my final NJ election before moving to MD. It was my first memory of having a sad and sickening feeling about the results. I remember Rush Limbaugh putting the best spin on it the next day – declaring himself as the biggest winner, in that he now had four years of show material.
1996 – ah… make that eight years of show material. Now I was in MD. I remember spending a lot of the daytime hours eating lunch in the car and driving somewhere listening to the radio, and hoping against hope that somehow Dole could pull it out. Nope … not an inspiring guy.
2000 – Now I not only have five boys, but one of them had voted for the first time and was experiencing the election as a wee minority conservative at his collegiate stronghold of liberalism. The whole thing was thrown up in the air as the focus shifted to Florida and a discussion of “hanging chads.”
2004 – My primary memory of this election is my anger at Bush for being such a dreadful debater and a fellow who seemed capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory whenever he talked.
2008 – Totally sick and sad feelings like never before! How could the electorate possibly be this ignorant and gullible? I determined that night that I had to become involved somehow. I began to hang around with the Republican Club and the Republican Central Committee people – not even at the time knowing the distinction between them. A year later I was on the Committee to fill an unexpired term and two years later I was elected to the Committee, and then selected by the Committee to be the WCRCC chairman for 2011. And then there was a silly controversy, and I got to talk to the state prosecutor, etc., etc…. and it has been an interesting trip!
2012 – What would I write in this space if I had chosen to do this a day later? It is scary to consider. I don’t like over-dramatization of anything, but to those who say it is silly to call this “the most critical election of our lifetime” … OK … name what other election was more significant. … Silence.