I've always been a political animal. I think it was in our family DNA. The values my parents raised us with included a deep love of this country and its foundational values of liberty and justice for all -- and they instilled in us a deep sense of our responsibility to participate in the political process.
The first election I remember being aware of was 1960 ... I was 6 ... and four years later, I walked our precinct with my mom handing out literature for ... Barry Goldwater. And in 5th grade I won first prize in a D.A.R. essay contest for a piece entitled “The Land I Love is America.”
Yes, the family political roots went deep.
We watched conventions together ... crunched up on the old couch in the den on the black & white TV with the rabbit ears ... and we stayed up late following election returns. I remember explaining the electoral college to classmates on the elementary school playground because Daddy explained it to me. And when I was in high school in Santa Barbara I volunteered to drive voters to the polls to make sure that shut-ins had the opportunity to vote. I voted in my first presidential election in 1972 – the year I turned 18 and they lowered the voting age TO 18 … I think I thought they did it just for me!
And in college, I majored in history and political science ... planning to go to law school and thinking that one day I might find my own role in the political process ... believing that the American Dream really is worth the work it takes to preserve and protect it even as I believed we were not yet "there" in the liberty and justice for all part. Along the way I got sidetracked … never made it to law school and stayed home and raised kids and stayed a registered Republican … even though I increasingly found myself voting “across party lines.”
That changed in 1992. I was watching the Republican Convention television coverage – cooking dinner while the boys did their homework when Pat Buchanan rose to the podium and gave what has come to be known as his "Culture War" speech. I listened with increasing horror as his narrow, exclusivist, fear-mongering rhetoric laid out a vision for what this country needed -- a vision that bore absolutely NO resemblance to the values my parents had raised me to understand were core to the “Grand Old Party” of my Republican roots.
I turned the stove down under the simmering green beans, told the boys to finish their homework and I’d be right back … and I drove the six blocks down to the grocery store where earlier in the day I’d noticed the card table out front with the “Register to Vote” sign. I changed my party affiliation that day – explaining to the woman at the card table that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow I was NOT going to die a Republican. And I’ve never looked back.
And so here I am again tonight – glued to another political convention. There aren’t two kids doing homework at the kitchen table this time … one’s in Kentucky working two jobs to try to make ends meet and the other is in the Army. But there are familiar signs and the balloons, the speeches and the pundits.
And what a relief to hear in the those speeches the same dream of the America I wrote about with such hope and love and pride in 5th grade … the America where liberty and justice for all is not just a slogan but a reality. It is a dream that will never die … and it was impossible to hear Ted Kennedy inspire us one more time to believe it NOT to believe it. Not to believe that yes we CAN fix what is broken about the American dream -- and yes we CAN heal the divisions that challenge us as a nation.
I’m still a political animal. And tonight I've never been prouder to be one.