Like most youths, my parents greatly influenced my early political inclinations.
Both were great examples of citizens who understood the importance of the ballot for the survival of our democracy. It mattered not to them whether it was a school board seat, township commissioner post or a county sheriff run-off, they showed up at the polls and cast their votes.
Once, I asked Dad, “When all is said and done, how do you decide which political candidate to vote for?”
“I always vote for the best man, based on the issues, and not on his party affiliation,” Dad said in a matter of fact tone of voice.
Sounds like good voting sense, huh? Then, I slowly edged out onto thin ice and asked a follow-up question.
“Dad, have you ever voted for a single Democratic candidate in your whole life?” I asked.
“No, I haven’t,” Dad replied with a wink of his eye. “Sadly, the Democrats are always wrong when I check them out, and the Republicans are always right.”
So much for objectivity, right?
Well, let’s be gentle to my parents who still to this day remember President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s solutions for the agricultural doldrums of the Great Depression: mandatory destruction of corn fields and slaughtering millions of pigs while thousands of Americans went hungry. Buddy, can you spare a dime?
As for myself, I paid scant attention to politics while I was growing up on my parents’ farm during the 1950’s and early 60’s. The Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees were far more important to me. And anyway, have you ever heard recordings of speeches given by President Dwight D. Eisenhower or Senator Everett Dirksen? They were drop-dead, excruciatingly boring!
“Roy Rogers is backing Goldwater for president,” I said in total candor when the teacher asked for my opinion. “So, if Goldwater’s good enough for Roy Rogers, he’s good enough for me.”
With that cheesy political attitude, I headed for the University of Illinois in September, 1964, just two months before the presidential elections.
So, what did many college lads talk about – other than girls and sports – in dorms and fraternity houses? Politics. And how do you think my Roy Rogers’ argument held up in debates about presidential politics?
Not well at all!
You see, in my era, 70% of the students attending the University of Illinois were from the Chicago area. And these kids had parents who had totally different opinions about the Great Depression. They liked FDR. They loved President John F. Kennedy and were inspired by him. Plus, they were feisty, card-carrying Democrats who knew their stuff.
It only took one discussion to discover I was just a hayseed farm boy when it came to politics. So, I learned to listen and read newspapers and magazines.
But something happened in the summer of 1965 which changed, not only my attitudes on politics, but millions of other college students for decades to come.
(Continued in Part 2)