I got a couple of ideas out of this week’s Matter of Opinion podcast from the NYT. I’ll write about the other later when I have more time, but at the moment I’ll just share this little interlude where they asked kids (ranging in age from about 17 to a vague “under 30”) to call in with their first political memories:
And we’re back. So we have something else up our sleeve this week, in lieu of a Hot Cold. We recently asked our younger listeners to send in their political awakenings. So let’s take a listen now….
And the callers weighed in with their thoughts on recent events (one first took note of the political world on Jan. 6, 2021) that to them seem to have happened quite some time ago.
Which got me to thinking back a bit further, although I wish they hadn’t used the word “awakenings.” It has a disturbing flavor of ideological orthodoxy, like asking “When did you get your mind right?” I would simply have asked them to recount their “first awareness,” or simply first memory, of politics. That interests me more.
What is yours? Mine was from 1960, at more or less the very moment when I reached the age of 7. I’ve told it here before, but can’t find it at the moment, so I’ll just tell it again. I watched the presidential debates, and I decided I was for Nixon. That was based on my immature assessment of what I perceived as Kennedy’s aggressive tone on the subject of foreign policy. I don’t recall now what he said about the Soviets, but he sounded a lot more like a guy willing to go to war. And not a cold one. Of course, he may have said nothing of the kind. But that’s the way I heard it.
Thinking back on the impression now, I assume — if I heard it right — he was trying to sound that way because he was very young and widely regarded as inexperienced in comparison to the vice president. Maybe he was pushing the tough talk a bit in an effort to create a visceral impression of being a strong leader. But I didn’t know about things like that. I just knew my father was a naval officer, and Kennedy sounded more like a guy who would send my Daddy off to war.
I was quite serious about it, and took the election result hard, and rather, well, childishly. My mother watched Kennedy’s inauguration on the black-and-white in our Woodbury, N.J., apartment, and I protested loudly that I wanted her to change the station to something else (not that there would have been anything else at that moment). She ignored my requests, so in protest I hid behind a chair where I couldn’t see the screen. My mother told me to stop being ridiculous, but I persisted. Basically, I acted like a Trump supporter, although I didn’t storm the U.S. Capitol.
Anyway, I got over it, just not that day.
Speaking of my Dad, his first political memory was of his own father arguing loudly with a neighbor out on the sidewalk in front of the family home in Kensington, Md. The subject? FDR. The neighbor thought he was great, and I gather from his vehemence (which embarrassed my grandmother and caused her to call out to tell my grandpa to stop and come into the house) that he thought Roosevelt would be the ruination of the country. I’m guessing there, because my Dad was too young to understand and couldn’t explain it to me. I’m guess this was early in FDR’s time in office, so… maybe mid-30s. My Dad was born at the end of 1928.
Anyway, what’s your first political memory?