Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On Politics

Photo of John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon taken prior to their first debate at WBBM-TV in Chicago in 1960. (Source)
My earliest recollection of anything political hearkens back to the Kennedy / Nixon debates of 1960, fifty-six years ago. Yes, I was just a wee lad back in those days, I was in the second grade. Looking back on it, I think I was a rather precocious fellow, perhaps it was the company I kept in those days.

My best buddy was named Bruce, he lived on a hillside with a great view of our little town. His living room window was essentially the front of the house. That's right, the front of Bruce's house was all glass, pretty fancy indeed for those times. Bruce's dad was a doctor. Made good money he did and no one begrudged him that, for as I recall he was a stellar member of the medical profession. A good doc if memory serves me correctly.

Now you may be wondering what all this has to do with politics. Well, I'm setting the stage so to speak. Like I was saying the Presidential race in 1960 pitted John F. Kennedy (D) versus Richard M. Nixon (R). In our little second grade class the day after one of the televised debates, the teacher had us talk about the debate with an eye towards having the class vote on who should be President of the United States.

Pretty heady stuff for a seven year old I can tell you. As I recall, the "discussion" over who was the better candidate was very elementary and divided the class very much along socio-economic lines. (Like I knew what that meant back then, I barely understand it now!)

The elementary part (you knew there was a pun there, didn't you?) was that the "discussion" was the sort you might expect among a group of second graders. The boys shouted (a lot), the girls tried to bring calm to the situation, which of course led to accusations of smelling bad and having cooties, whereas the teacher herself (a wonderful teacher who's name escapes me at the moment) tried to keep the boys from pelting each other with whatever projectiles were readily to hand (think books, pencils, rulers, and protractors).

The socio-economic part was that we had two groups of kids in those days. The college-bound (how they decided that was beyond me), and the trades-bound. I have no doubt that the two groups were decided by how well one did in school and probably by what your parents did for a living and where, in town, they lived. Not very equitable or fair and in reality in the long run it didn't matter anyway. I knew many a kid who went to college and wound up being a machinist in a factory. Which I did for a while back in the day. FWIW, I was a terrible machinist.

As I recall, if your Dad was in a union, the family were Democrats. If they were in management (which in my town meant you weren't in the union) then the family were Republicans. The professional class (doctors, lawyers, etc.) were not as easily categorized. Your political leanings tended to follow whatever your parents and their parents before them voted. Very traditional (one might say hide-bound) we were.

Eventually the teacher managed to reel the chaos in (I think by offering us the chance to stay after school) and we had our vote. It was close but Mr. Nixon won. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Kennedy's supporters who pointed out that he looked far better than Mr. Nixon on television. Judge for yourself...



History tells us that Mr. Nixon looked bad on TV whereas Mr. Kennedy looked great. I don't remember it that way. But what did I know, I was seven.

By now you're probably wondering what my friend Bruce has to do with all this. Well, a couple of years later, a comedy album (you remember those vinyl albums, right?) by a fellow by the name of Vaughn Meader was released and was all the rage, the album was called The First Family and poked gentle fun at the Kennedys, primarily because of their "upper class" Boston accents. Well, my family had a copy of that album, Bruce's family had a copy of that album. Bruce and I discovered that we both could do a passable "Kennedy accent" and displayed this talent one day at recess. Our teacher overheard us and found it amusing.

Therefore we would do this for our classmates, in class. It was that day that I discovered that I was a bit of an extrovert, a bit of an attention whore if I must say. Still am.

Much to my chagrin though, Bruce got to play Jack Kennedy, I was "stuck" being Bobby. It was all in good fun. Now Vaughn Meader was a favorite of mine, right up until November of 1963. Here's Mr. Meader portraying President Kennedy -



Still amusing to me these many years later. It did take a very long time before I was able to listen to Mr. Meader's impersonation of the late President. You may well imagine what happened to his career after November of 1963.

So I was exposed to politics at a rather young age, things were simpler then. What sparked this memory is remembering we seven year olds, hurling insults at each other, there may even have been a few fistfights on the playground on our little "election day." Our adult teachers tried to keep things civil and admonished us greatly for "acting like savages" instead of human beings.

Given recent events on the political scene, I don't see much difference between the folks fighting over politics in the public eye these days and we seven year olds back in 1960. There seems to be one difference though...

I think we seven year olds were better informed on the issues back then, the teachers saw to that. These days no one seems to care about the issues or the facts. No matter what age one happens to be.

Much has changed since I was seven.



24 comments:

  1. What memories that brings back. I was only 8 at the time. Over five decades later and I am still confused about politics. Nixon looked a lot better than I remembered (or have read over the years). Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't get the "Nixon looked bad" thing back then, still don't but hey, we didn't get to write the history books.

      I had fun researching this post, glad you enjoyed it.

      Delete
  2. Great memories! I recall the night of the debate I was attending a college freshman dance in San Francisco as part of a double date arraigned by my room mate. His date's room mate was the classic "she has a great personalty." I excused myself to hit the head and, as I walked through the bar. I saw the start of the debate on the television. I was mesmerized. (I was also a lousy date because I stayed to watch debate.) Seeing Vaughn Meader reminds me of listening to the music of Tom Lehrer of the same period. Some of his songs were definitely of the "singe without burning" family.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Better times in some ways. Prior to entering the abyss of Vietnam. I think we did the right thing, but we totally hosed the execution. Too much input from "on high."

      Delete
    2. As I understand it, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought that Nixon won, while the TV viewers concluded that JFK won. My Irish Catholic mother simply stated that all the women would vote for Kennedy because he was "good looking". In any event, she and my dad always cancelled each other's vote.

      Delete
    3. I recall a number of people back in the day saying Kennedy couldn't be elected because he was Catholic. And that was the ONLY reason they wouldn't vote for him.

      Different times.

      Delete
  3. One big thing that has changed, is how dumb the young are. Not all, of course, but a sizeable percentage. I even hear the kids commenting on it. Hence the strength of the Democratic party, as thinking is not only not required, it is undesirable. I have a small plastic skunk named Mojo, that lives on top of my computer. A nephew of mine tells me that most of the people of his generation, if a think off were to be held between Mojo, and a representative member of that group, in order for it to be fair, Mojo would have to be stunned first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I blame the schools, the kids haven't been taught to think critically. I almost blamed the teachers, but they are handcuffed by the administrators, the school boards, and the multiple layers of politicians over them. While I have known some really bad teachers (then AND now) many of them do the best they can with the policies and materials forced upon them. Education is this country's most glaring weakness in my book. Why change what allowed us to put men on the moon? It wasn't broke in my day, it is now.

      I think even if you stunned Mojo first, he'd still be the odds-on favorite.

      Delete
  4. Some of what they taught us about politics was incorrect. My teacher explained to us that a Catholic could not be elected President because he could be controlled by what ever the Pope told him.

    Apparently that was incorrect information. That teacher never heard of the Episcopal Church.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our teacher told us that IF elected, Kennedy would be the first Catholic President, she declined to comment as to whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

      Only those who know history would get that last bit...

      Delete
  5. I remember hearing about the debates, but, because they occurred on a school night, was not allowed to watch because in our house there was no TV on a school night.
    My first real introduction to politics was in '52 when all three networks broadcast the entire conventions and preempted all of the regular tv shows, like Fireman Frank, the Herky show, and Adventure Time.
    I have hated politics ever since.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, preempting regular programming? I can see that being a deal breaker.

      Delete
  6. We also had that Meader record album. (I may still have it in my basement, along with Perry Como, The Kingston Trio, and The Lettermen.) As a young denizen of SE Michigan (a/k/a The MidWest, where the regionally-neutral radio voice was born), I had never heard a "Bahston" accent before. Sounded pretty weird. Practically foreign, even. ;-)

    I was in 9th grade in a Catholic school (taught by Dominican nuns) during the latter half of 1960 -- there was no question of whom to vote for in our "mock" election. As for the nuns, the mere thought of a Catholic occupying the Oval Office probably "sent a tingle up their legs," to quote somebody or other. It was strongly implied that to vote against the Catholic might quite possibly qualify as a mortal sin. Or maybe that was just my lasting impression....

    IIRC, 1960 was also the first(?) year of the crisis in the Belgian Congo, and Soviet-encouraged nationalism was on the rise, and weighed on us Catholics. There was much concern voiced over who would best guide the ship of state in a world increasingly threatened by Communist expansion.

    BTW, here are the top 10 pop songs of 1960:
    1 Percy Faith Theme From "A Summer Place"
    2 Jim Reeves He'll Have To Go
    3 Everly Brothers Cathy's Clown
    4 Johnny Preston Running Bear
    5 Mark Dinning Teen Angel
    6 Brenda Lee I'm Sorry
    7 Elvis Presley It's Now Or Never
    8 Jimmy Jones Handy Man
    9 Elvis Presley Stuck On You
    10 Chubby Checker The Twist

    (I can't believe that Roy Orbison's "Only The Lonely" only made it to #20!)
    See the rest, here: http://www.bobborst.com/popculture/top-100-songs-of-the-year/?year=1960

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Forgot to add: we also need to remember that all news was filtered through the three major TV networks, local newspapers (at the time, Detroit had two newspapers, one delivered in the morning & the other, the afternoon paper: The Detroit News, considered biased toward Democrats, and the Detroit Free Press, which leaned in the other direction), and the two main weekly magazines: Time and Newsweek (ditto, left and right leaning.)

      Lord only knows what politics might have been like, those 56 years ago, had the world then enjoyed Twitter, Internet, video streaming, blogs, and been able to explore the world of free opinion and thought, as we can now.

      Delete
    2. Wow, I remember all of those songs! As to increasing Soviet trouble making, those were the years we got to practice nuclear attack drills. I remember those very well.

      Delete
    3. Oh yeah, Twitter and all that back then? There is an interesting "What If?" scenario.

      Delete
  7. Off topic but the talk about the "Boston Accent" brings back a memory of my time in Hawaii. My next door neighbors were two schoolteachers from the Boston area and we became friends. One evening I was grilling a steak on the patio when one of them came out and asked "John, do you have a pen?" "Sure" I replied, went inside and came back with a ballpoint. "No! No!" she exclaimed, "A pen, a pen, I'm cooking spaghetti!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha. I've had similar experiences with the denizens of the Commonwealth. 'Tis a different language they speak.

      Delete
  8. I wasn't old enough o vote in that election but was serving in the Army when he was killed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A short hop from high school to the military. Were you old enough to vote in '63? That was before 18 year olds got the right to vote.

      Delete
  9. I was old enough to vote in 64 and I was all excited about Barry Goldwater. A lot of my liberal friends were trying to convince me that Goldwater would be a catastrophe as President. They kept telling me that if I voted for Barry Goldwater that within six months we would be engaged in a war in Asia, that Americans would be dying on the battlefield, that the economy would tank, that there would be rioting in the streets and that civil unrest would sweep the country. I didn't believe them and went ahead and voted for Goldwater. It turned out that they were right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup, they were right, for all the wrong reasons...

      Delete
  10. @Rivetjoint/

    You're right about the radio/tv thing, but an even more interesting poll showed the power of "elite" "Opinion-Makers" to frame perceptions. Almost all of the nations' TV "talking heads"/newspaper editorialists, etc., viewed the debates on tv and therefore uniformly decreed JFK the winner. After a couple weeks of editorials in the leading newspapers and on national TV to this effect, another poll was taken of the original respondents who had listened on radio and who thought, by dint of factual points advanced and logic, untainted by "image" that Nixon had won. This time, however, the majority of the radio listeners who originally had thought Nixon, the winner had by now changed their minds,
    citing the views of the "opinion makers" and deciding that JFK had won after all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn.

      Though I'm not really surprised...

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)