The Day I Voted for Reagan

I’ll never forget the day I told my dad I had voted for a Republican candidate. He was livid. He sat me down for a stern lecture and told me that the GOP had only the interests of the wealthy and big business at heart. He said that even if they claimed they valued the vote of the “working man,” they would never consider people like us as their equals.

He went on to tell me already familiar stories of growing up during the Great Depression, what it was like to truly not know where your next meal would come from. He told me of sharing what little you had with people who had even less and the struggles of the farmers, including his own family, good, hard-working people whose life savings were wiped out, whose farms, which had been in families for generations, were seized. No matter how the Republicans would try to re-write history and claim otherwise, he had lived through it and swore it was the New Deal and President Roosevelt who saved the country and overcame the worst socio-economic calamity the US had known.

Oh, no son of his was ever going to be a Republican, or it would be over his dead body. He kept saying over and over how that one day I would understand and see he was right. But I was young, and he was my dad and so self-sure, of course I would have to take the opposite side. I mean it was my job, right?

The year was 1980. The grave error I made, according to my dad, was in voting for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter in my class mock election at school. I was ten years old. And for some reason, even though I knew better, I told my dad, probably to wind him up.

Regardless of how silly it may seem that my dad got so worked up over an elementary school mock presidential election, my dad was right. One day I did see the truth in what he was saying. I came of age under a president who single-handedly undid so much of the amazing progressive legacy of great leaders like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson. The man I “voted for” in 5th grade sat in silence and said nothing when tens of thousands of young men began to literally die overnight of a disease whose name Reagan did not publicly speak once during his two terms in office. It was under his watch when governments throughout the world, and especially in Latin America, committed untold atrocities against their own people and whose military were funded and trained by our own government, all because they were supposed anti-Communist allies. It was also the beginning of the end, when the US began to lurch so hard to the right, that now even rather extreme conservatives are considered moderates. And they all race to see who can win the mantle of being the most Reagan-like candidate for the GOP nomination.

Today, thanks to the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, corporations are now seen as possessing the status of individuals when it comes to rights of speech and political activity and financial contributions, effectively enabling them to buy elections. The worship at the altar of big business has come to fruition. Many of the 99 percent may now see how far we have been sold up the river, but yet, there are still so many working poor who look to the GOP to represent their best interests. Maybe they are so singularly focused on the right-wing Christian rhetoric of the Republican candidates that they don’t care what their positions may be on such worldly policies as financial regulation (or lack thereof). All they have to say is “gay marriage” and “late-term abortion” and the votes just pour in.

I live in London now with my British husband and our two young sons through open adoption. It’s a long way from the farm nestled in the rolling hills of rural southern Indiana where I grew up and my parents still live. I have always remained incredibly close with my family, especially my parents. They didn’t bat an eye when I asked them to both walk me down the aisle at my wedding in San Francisco 11 years ago. I know they were as proud of me on my big day as they were of my siblings on theirs. And they simply adore our sons who are their 13th and 14th grandchildren respectively. But even though I live abroad, I try to follow news in the US as much as possible (with two active young kids) and speak with my family regularly.

I had the chance to talk to my dad tonight. I was glad my mom wasn’t home. They now have this thing where they each get on a phone and it means most of the conversation is dominated by my talkative mom catching me up on all the latest family and community news – who died, who had a doctor appointment, etc. So I relished the chance to talk to my dad all on my own. He has advanced dementia. He has good days and bad days.

Sometimes when I call, he hardly says a word. Often when I ask a question, he will repeat either he doesn’t know or doesn’t remember. But not today, today was a good day. We talked about the weather, we talked about where he and my mom went for their Sunday dinner after church (Bob Evans for breakfast of course, my dad loves hash browns.) I wanted to ask him about his thoughts on the Republican primary, but you know what, I am glad I didn’t. It would have just upset him. And for what? They don’t deserve our attention. And I’m glad I didn’t waste those precious moments of “good day” conversation with a man who has more integrity and character than all of them combined. I am so grateful to my dad for all the things he taught me, and even the mistakes he made. I know he always did the best he could and his heart was in the right place. And as we started to say our good-byes, I told him I was so glad to be able to talk with him, and we both understood all the levels of what that meant. And for the first time I remember, he said, “I love you” first as we said our good byes. I love you, too Daddy, with all my heart.

Now what in the world will I do if one of my boys comes home some day to tell me they voted Tory?!

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