When I Was A Republican in College 1972

This season’s political climate makes me nostalgic. No yearning for the old days nostalgia, just remembering old days nostalgia. My political past makes today’s young pups look incredibly tame; their adventures so incredibly lame. I am a Nixon Era political science student. We did not study the 1960s, we lived them. And the 1970s. By 1980, my Republican diaspora turned me into a Libertarian and found me campaigning for Ed Clark (the Alaskan worth his salt on the national political scene, he was no Ted Stephens and godforbid Sarah Palin).

Arkansas Republicans were scarce as hen’s teeth in the early 1960s. Faubus controlled the state. It took the clout and finances of a Rockefeller to shut down gambling and pave roads in the state. One needs to appreciate the politics of Huey P. Long and Orville Faubus, I believe, to begin to appreciate Arkansas in the 40s – 60s. Faubus for his strong arm and Long (albeit Louisianan) for his populist appeal.

My parents were the quintessential Ohio Republicans, the REAL kind that today’s Republicans can only wish they were. We weren’t Southern. We were northern industrialists relocated, dropped like parachutists into enemy territory. Eisenhower supporters from families that worked through the Depression and managed to send their children to college during those dreadful years. It’s very difficult to put my political heritage into words. It jumps all over the place from Sebastian County and Fort Smith, Arkansas days when Republicans like my parents wanted the Civil Rights Act to pass despite not voting for LBJ. Barry Goldwater days. Those times require a completely different mindset than that of today.

Let’s see… before I was 15 I’d met Winthrop Rockefeller and been to his farm in Petit Jean numerous times; served dinner to Spiro Agnew; shook hands with Richard Nixon and Everett Dirksen. I’d been to the US Senate gallery half a dozen times. My father participated in Congressional hearings concerning labor reform and we accompanied him on his trips. I sat behind the desk of Senator McClellan. I’d been a page for the AR House and Senate on at least 4 occasions. Bob Hope shook my hand  and thanked me for campaigning for Rockefeller (I still have his autograph.) As a member of what in the 1960s were known as the Young Republicans, I was proud to represent my parents and their idealism. As a delegate to Girl’s State, my “district” elected me Senator and I had the privilege to oversee a mock day in the state senate wherein two of us presented a bill to legalize marijuana. Political events were my after-school activities. Oh and in the meantime, I swam butterfly in the Junior Olympics and worked out mornings from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00.

My parents were middle class. Well educated, both of them. My mom had a degree in Engineering and she entered college at age 15, graduating in 1937 at 20. My mom and dad were brilliant. It was a given that we would go to college. It was also a given that I would work every summer in a factory to pay for my college.

At 16, too young for the assembly line, my summer meant getting up at 4:30 a.m. to be at the factory cafeteria to help prepare food and wash dishes for the 5,000+ workers. When the head check-out clerk for the cafeteria took two week’s vacation, I trained to take her place. I received a $25 bonus for taking on the responsibility successfully. The next year I learned to become a brazier, a riveter, and a quality control inspection line worker during the night shift, 3 – 11 p.m. The supervisors, I was later told, learned quickly that they could teach me whatever was needed within a few minutes so they traded me around when someone called in sick. Probably this came in handy because it was a union shop and I was a punk kid whose father worked in the front office as head of what was then called “Personnel” and he was a well-liked and admired labor negotiator.

My third summer of factory work preceded my freshman year of college. I’d graduated high school at barely 17, having started first grade a bit ahead of the usual chronological age. In late June of that summer, 1972, I received an invitation to attend the Republican National Convention in Miami as a page for the Arkansas delegation.

Now, if you don’t know where to place the 1972 Republican National Convention in a historical timeline, try this. Richard Nixon’s second term. Pre-Watergate. Anti-Viet Nam War protests were at their violent peak. I was about as naive as a 17 year old could be — this is before the Internet, back when phones were still attached to a four foot cord attached to the phone itself which was attached to the wall. Which meant, when you wanted to have a long conversation, you sat on the kitchen floor kinda’ perched up on the backs of your heels and your whole family listened, if they so desired, from the other room. No one told us anything then. If you wanted information, you could not get it. You believed what people told you but their information could be faulty or biased and they didn’t find out about the flaw until years later. We listened to Walter Cronkite and read the local newspaper. My father listened to the news on the radio every morning while he ate breakfast. There was no 24-hour news cycle. Remember pre-CNN?

My dad was in WWII. My Aunt Helen followed Patton’s Army into Germany with the Red Cross and entered the Concentration Camps with the first wave of troops. My mom worked as a civilian for the Army in personnel offices in Norfolk, VA. They all believed in America. In The American Way. Not blind patriots, no… but they loved their country. Mom and Dad read “Reason” and idolized William F. Buckley. Who was the editor… R. Emmett Tyrell, I think… and we didn’t discuss Hollywood personalities, we only watched TV when a show was worthy of our time (in their opinion) and you were supposed to hold reading above any other endeavor. If we were bored, they expected us to grab a volume of Encyclopedia Britanica and entertain ourselves. My brother read his way through our set of encyclopedias by the time he was 14 and from then on  he read the yearbooks when they arrived.

So I went to the Republican National Convention in 1972. Details of that trip will be revealed later, except for this: Remember the movie, Born on the Fourth of July? The end of the movie? If you’ve never seen it, watch it. No matter how you feel about the 2012 Tom Cruise, this movie transcends his current stupidity. That last bit of the movie where he is in the Republican convention. Remember the chaos outside? I’d stepped out to take a look because I’d heard the National Guard looked impressive standing two deep all the way around the convention center. I wanted to see it so I could tell my dad about it.

I stepped out of the perimeter, beyond the chain link fence. The tear gas, the protesters left in the street, unable to get out of the gas… I lived that. It’s all true. I saw it. I was tear-gassed. Stumbling down the street, little middle-class white girl me in my pretty linen shirtwaist dress my mom made me just for the trip, a Catholic priest grabbed me and, along with others, we were helped to the Church nearby — blinded by tear gas and frightened beyond compare — they made me dunk my head in a bucket of cold water and they stopped me from rubbing my eyes.

I’ve set some strange ingredients into the kettle. It will take a few days for it all  to brew; it needs to steep. In the new Internet days this article would be inundated with links and cross-links, explanations and details designed to conjure hits and traffic. These days it’s pure writing. These days people/readers are savvy enough to cross-reference on their own, to highlight and copy/paste whatever bit of information they seek into the Google search line. So if you found this piece and it interests you, come back later for more. I have a lot to say. Time I started saying it.

This essay doesn’t cover 1972-1974 political science studies at the University of Arkansas. It’s my prelude to a dream … all will be revealed.

 

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