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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tightrope Tuesday: Teaching my Kids about Politics & Compassion

Here’s what I tell my kids about politics: Vote for the candidate with the most compassion.

Not that there’s much compassion in politics.

Today is the New Hampshire primary. In my first year at NYU, I spent the winter break sleeping on a floor of some Nashua, New Hampshire family, campaigning door to door for Gary Hart. (This was his first run – no Donna Rice until four years later.) I remember patches of the adventure, like being driven up from New York by the grandson of FAO Schwarz, who liked to drive on empty to see how far he could get.  

I remember meeting Gary Hart at a rally, and getting his signature on the back of a peeled Heineken label I had in my purse.

Gary Hart: I was way into this guy. Don't remember why...

I also met George McGovern in a diner. He had bushy eyebrows.

I remember someone literally holding me back when I attempted to cross the street in the middle of the block instead of at the light. “You could’ve been killed!” he exclaimed, though there wasn’t a car in sight.

I remember meeting a cute, sweet guy named Mark who went to Rutgers. I think he liked me – he stuck around in New Hampshire longer than he intended because I was staying – but unfortunately I was obsessed with an NYU classmate named Gus who turned out to be bisexual, but still not interested in me.

I remember the snow – sooo much!!!

I remember everyone saying that Walter Mondale’s people put sugar in our gas tanks.

This is all to say that I remember little, human things – but nothing about the day to day, door to door campaigning. I think I blocked it out.

I remember the night we won. WE WON!!! Earlier that day I’d been selected to monitor the signing-in process at a polling place (we’ve all learned how necessary THAT is), but someone asked me for ID. I was two months shy of eighteen, so out on the snow I went, to spend hours waiting for my pickup (no cell phones back then, dearies.) I developed a fever, and stayed in the campaign office while everyone partied the night away with Senator Hart. Sometime during the evening, as I lay slumped on the floor, I hallucinated a conversation with Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina. At least, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, another democratic candidate that year: I enjoyed my hallucination of him. Nice guy, though conservative.

In the morning, my fever broke – but I’d been forgotten. The bus was leaving for New York without me. Thankfully a thirteen-year-old prodigy who was a student at Columbia demanded that they hold the bus while he looked for me.

This was my thanks for slaving away and sleeping on a strange family’s floor for a month.

My disillusionment became complete when Gary Hart conceded the nomination to Walter Mondale to form “party unity.” No way – that guy had people who put sugar in our gas tanks!

In my first election, this was who I had left to vote for. Because the Republican choice was worse.

My son Michael is seventeen. He gets to vote in November. He has no aspirations to campaign for anyone. Perhaps he is dissuaded by my experiences, but more likely he wouldn’t do it anyway. He’s got other passions on his mind. Thank goodness! If I could go back in time I wouldn’t work for any politician, ever. They’re not worth the effort. I vote, and I share my opinions with anyone who wants to hear them (I always have an opinion) – and that’s enough. Politicians will always break your heart, because they are politicians.

I’ve told Michael and his brother a fair amount about politics, because I want them to question everything they hear. I took Michael to Fahrenheit 911 when it came out, but he was a little young to get it. Perhaps another viewing is in order.

I want my kids to know what’s going on, and to care. I want them to see reason, which often is forgotten in politics.

I don’t tell them to be democrats, though I am. They of course can choose what party they want. And it’s not like I’ve ruled out voting for a republican. I always check out both candidates, and vote for the one with most heart.

I’ve never voted for a republican.

I would be surprised if my kids were republicans, and I would be sad. But I would still love them.

In the end, all I can offer my kids is exposure to the process, and my honest opinion. I can’t imagine the American public voting for a guy who strapped his dog to the roof of his minivan and drove to Canada. But I couldn’t imagine them re-electing Bush after Fahrenheit 911.

I tell my kids, nothing is certain.

Perhaps that’s the best lesson politics can offer.

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