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February 5, 2008

Presidential Elections Past

Roy Meachum

Registered Frederick County voters received a notice from the elections board last week: Enclosed was a list of candidates for federal jobs, including wannabe delegates to next summer's party conventions and the gang trying out for the Board of Education.

This year, more than ever, I'm reminded of the first time I stepped into a voting booth and it really was: set up in College Park Elementary School. Even then, I was very fickle when it came to parties. Eisenhower was up for his second term; the last election the Army had me stationed in Germany.

When it came to party preference I really had no choice.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his successor, Harry S Truman, were the only presidents in my young life. Besides, there was the Southern tradition. The only Republican that grabbed headlines before Ike was the junior senator from Wisconsin and I certainly wouldn't join Joseph R. McCarthy's party.

Moreover, I rather enjoyed Adlai Stevenson's dry wit and intellectual asides. Somewhere I had acquired a lead shoe-with-a-hole, his logo; I sported Governor Stevenson's shoe like a proud banner.

Then I stepped into the booth in the school where eldest son Tom began his education. The red bricks are gone now.

It was in the morning, on my way to my downtown job, on Massachusetts Avenue; by that afternoon I couldn't really tell you why I made the switch. It could have been my Camp Kilmer visit to Hungarian refugees, packed into Army barracks like so many cattle. Maybe I remembered Airlift Berlin. Some might say I yielded to the comfort of Eisenhower prosperity and wanted to keep things that way.

At least I had the sense of honesty to remove from my lapel the candidate's shoe-in-the-hole. The next election I proved again a traitor to my Democratic heritage.

Richard Nixon rated well below my favorite public figures. But in those halcyon times of Mayor Richard Dailey, I resented his Democratic domination of that corner of Illinois where I lived. Maybe eight years of Ike had left me wanting more of the same and Mr. Nixon had been part of that.

In any event, Mayor Dailey delivered Cook County for his party's candidate and I returned to Washington to enjoy the side-effects of Camelot. My vote against Nixon's second term "made no never mind" as Cajuns say. (Today, not incidentally, is Mardi Gras.)

Voting for Lyndon B. Johnson was a shoo-in. Gerald Ford had prompted an outburst the Sunday he pardoned Mr. Nixon; he politicized me when I had managed to stay emotionally above the fray during all Watergate. Furthermore, I was a cultural advisor to the Johnson White House.

When Jimmy Carter mounted his piebald nag and galloped away with the Democrats' nomination I rode along; the ex-governor of Georgia struck Washington like a breath of fresh air. But his honest sincerity soon paled when his Oval Office speeches sounded like whining; they were boring.

The last straw was the September "surprise;" he ordered a strike force on a suicide mission, designed to fail in its mission of pulling out American Embassy prisoners. Mr. Carter and his advisors went on the assumption that Teheran was like cities in the west, where there was an early, early morning stillness. But, like Cairo where I lived, it was a Muslim metropolis: a substantial part of the populace was about at all hours; the mosque call to prayers come a full hour before dawn. Had the mission reached their targets there could have been a blood bath of immense proportions.

Ronald Reagan's first term generally made me glad I had cast my ballot for him; his personality gave everybody hope at a time it was in short supply. He and his wife were a handsome couple, who made me feel better simply knowing they were in the White House. By re-election morning I felt vastly different. The present president's father offered the same, although I like Barbara a lot!

The next four stand-offs found me solidly Democratic. Readers know full well how I feel about the administration's tragic folly in Iraq. But I don't really blame George W. Bush; his vice president, however, should be water-boarded and hauled before a court-martial, in my view.

In the event, the next president should stop wasting billions and killing thousands, I am eagerly Democratic this year. This is no reflection on John McCain, the likely GOP nominee; he seems an honorable gentleman and far from a radical right-winger. But when I walk over to the Evangelical Lutheran Church next Tuesday, as the Elections Board ordered, I plan to ride no elephant.

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