Political Memories

The first election I remember was in 1980.   The Weekly Reader had pictures of Reagan and Carter, and our kindergarten class held our own election.  I thought Reagan had a nicer smile and looked more friendly in his picture, so I voted for him.  Several students in my Utah class were upset, because they wanted to vote for President Kimball and he wasn’t pictured.  My teacher had to explain that “President” could refer to the President of the United States or the President of the LDS Church, and we weren’t trying to vote President Kimball out of office.

I only vaguely remember the elections of 1984 and 1988, except that I’d picked up that Republicans were Good and Democrats were Bad, so I was pleased to see the Good Guys win.  By 1992, however, my stance had completely shifted.  I was annoyed that I was a mere two months too young to vote, and I tried to make up for that by spending the night before Election Day making Clinton signs and putting them all over the house in an attempt to influence my parents.

The first election I voted in was 1994.  I had become a bit of a political junkie by that point, and I was thrilled to get to participate in the process–even though it was Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America and the Republican Revolution that carried the day.  I was a bit glum the next day, as I listened to my BYU roommates talk excitedly about the results.

What I remember most from 1996 was that Utah’s Third District was close enough that they didn’t declare a winner that night.  I stayed up late watching the results, finally drifting off around 1 or 2 am.  I woke early the next morning, turned on the television, and was quite disappointed to learn that Bill Orton had been defeated, and the remarkable spectacle of a Democrat representing one of the most Republican districts in the country was no more.

In the fall of 2000 I had recently moved, to begin a new graduate program, and I hadn’t quite settled in yet.  I was feeling a bit depressed and lonely, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time that November and December distracting myself from brooding about my life by following every development of the Florida re-count.

By 2004 I had moved again, this time to my current residence in California.  Though I knew many people who were gathering to watch the results, I wasn’t in the mood for social interaction, and I followed the returns on the internet alone in my room, until I was so depressed about the whole thing that I turned it off and went to bed.  The post-election gloom which hung over the Bay Area the next day reminded me of the atmosphere in Utah County in 1992, after Clinton won, and I actually found myself in the bizarre (for me) position of defending Republicans to acquaintances whose disappointment about the election was being expressed in rather hyperbolic statements about the failings of political conservatives.

Election Day 2008 I think will always be particularly memorable for me–not just because of the excitement of seeing Obama win, but also because I was visiting my sister Eve that week, and she was in the early stages of labor.  She decided to venture to the polls nonetheless, so I drove her to the local high school, where fortunately there was no line.  I watched the results that night while Skyping enthusiastically with family members across the country.  Eve and her husband woke me up the next morning around 4:30 am to say that they were on their way to the hospital, and my niece arrived about 18 hours later.

This is the first inauguration I’ve ever watched, I think.  I’m back visiting my niece, who is sporting a “Babies for Obama” T-shirt in honor of the occasion.  And I have no doubt that this will be a day I remember for a long time.

What are your political memories?  Are there elections or other political occasions that you remember in particular?


  1. My earliest political memories actually consist of Lynette plastering the house with newspaper articles during the 1992 Elections.

    Though I have never been that interested in politics (I have only voted twice), this election has brought new excitement. Part of that has to come from Lady Amalthea’s passion (she was the one hanging signs this year) but I think part of it comes from a sudden interest in the country, what with the economic problems. This is the first time I have ever watched the election returns. The family skyped as we watched the election results and when it was called for Obama, Lady Amalthea literally jumped for joy. I liked Obama’s victory speech that I actually went online and read it again.

    Since the election, I have been watching copious amounts of The West Wing, which has made me a lot more interested in politics and the political process. I didn’t get to watch the inauguration today because of work, but don’t worry, I recorded it so I can watch it tonight.

  2. I don’t remember either of the elections for Reagan. I liked him because he seemed friendly and nice; when I was seven I wrote a letter to him and received in return a very nice book about the White House. I was disappointed because I had visions of him coming to my house for dinner in his helicopter. I don’t remember much about the 1988 election either, except that my siblings and I thought it hilarious that Quayle and Bush were running together and spent hours singing “the Quayle’s in the Bush”. We thought we were very clever. My parents are fairly political, I guess, but until 1996 I don’t remember much discussion in the house. My dad is very liberal and my mom conservative, and I grew up in California, so I don’t remember a particular ideology holding sway anywhere for me. The 1996 election stands out to me because that year my dad listened to NPR every morning while drove us to seminary so I heard a lot of political discussion. But by the time November got around I was a new freshman at BYU and didn’t really get around to figuring out absentee ballots. Then in 2000 I was on my mission and didn’t really have much idea of what was going on. I still don’t. The country I was in was mostly preoccupied with the Elian Gonzalez thing, so that was pretty much the only political issue i heard about while there. I honestly don’t remember 2004 at all. Hmm… This year will definitely be the most memorable election for me.

  3. I am so old …

    The first election I remember was Johnston-Goldwater in 1964, although my memories of that are much fainter than Lynette’s of Reagan-Carter.

    The first election I ever worked was Nixon’s 1968 campaign, when I ran lists back and forth between the polls and the homes of neighbor women who were calling those who hadn’t yet voted. The only reason I admit this blot on my past is because I trust you to recognize that I was only a child and didn’t know any better!

    I registered to vote on my 18th birthday. The amendment lowering the voting age had just passed, but because of the schedule of elections, I had to wait until I was 21 to vote in my first presidential election anyway.

    Since then I have always voted against what I thought was the worse of two candidates … until last year, when I actually had a hope that a vote for Obama would be a vote for something good instead of against something bad.

    Obama is the first president to be younger than me. That’s a funny feeling.

  4. I remember doing a little social science project for school. I think I was in middle school at the time. I determined that the greatest influence on political attitudes of kids that age was–surprise!–their parents. I think I got an “A” for the project.

    I started out Republican, spent many years as an Independent, and finally decided I’m a Democrat. I’m fiscally conservative but socially liberal. That being said, I’m not a big political junkie.

  5. First Political Memory: I remember “voting” for Ronald Reagan in grade school (5th grade or something). Everyone else voted for him too.

  6. I must be Lynnette’s age, because I was 6 weeks too young to vote for Perot in 1992.

    My first memory is “voting” in kindergarten between Carter, Reagan, and John? Anderson. I voted for Anderson because that’s my last name. I also have memory of watching Reagan’s inauguration in class in 1981.

    The 1988 election was the first one that I followed closely. I was in 8th grade. I was a teaching assistant along with another kid for a teacher during her planning period. She spent many days walking laps around the football field. We had long political discussions while we walked. I supported Bush and the other kid supported Dukakis, I think the teacher remained neutral. That kid ran for state senate a couple of years ago, I voted for him, but he lost as a Dem in a very Repub suburb.

  7. In 4th grade one of the son’s of the democratic gubernatorial candidate was in my public school class. That year the election seemed like a big deal, at least the state wide election for me. This would have been around 1982-1983. I remembered my dad reading statements and bios of the candidates and then discussing them. He wouldn’t give my his ideas until I stated mine. My parents were both conservative, but always had one person registered as a democrat and one as a republican, so they would get more info on the candidates.

    I remember voting for Dole and then my political views started to change, a lot. I was excited for Gore, even though I voted for Nader in Texas. That year, we lived close enough in downtown Austin, to hear the cheering for Bush when the election was at a stand still and/or Bush looked like Florida may be his. I voted for Kerry and when he didn’t win tried to be more politically active for the mid term elections. This year was fantastic, we moved to Florida, and were able to vote for candidate and feel like it would actually count. Election night was wonderful and today ….great.

  8. Fun post, Lynnette!

    In 2004, I lived in Arizona. One of the presidential debates was held there, on the campus of ASU, where I was attending. I recall that I had at least one class to go to that day, and it was actually held. The professor recommended we find alternate transportation to campus that day because the area around it had so much traffic and so many restrictions. So I biked that day.

    My wife and I had requested mail-in ballots. I really like that about Arizona–they really push voting by mail. I would so much rather sit down at the kitchen table with my ballot to fill it out, where I can easily look up more information about anyone and any proposition I care about, than vote in person. (Maybe they do that because, like California, they have lots of ballot propositions. A new stadium for the Cardinals! Better treatment of livestock! No jobs for illegal immigrants! Smoking taxes! No gay marriage! No gay marriage, take two! No jobs for illegal immigrants and this time we really mean it!) Anyway, we were slackers and didn’t mail our ballots in on time. Fortunately, they accepted mail-in ballots in person at voting locations on election day. My wife was sick that day, so I stayed home from school and played with the kids. And in the afternoon, I put the kids in our bike trailer and biked with them to an elementary school about a mile and a half away to drop our ballots off. At the polling place, a very nice woman from MoveOn.org watched my bike while the boys and I ran inside to drop the ballots off. I was disappointed in the result–I voted for Kerry–but it was a memorable election day.

  9. To: President Obama
    From: Martin Luther King
    Re: “I Have a Dream – Let Freedom Ring”:
    Answer: Freedom has Rung.

  10. My earliest political memory was in kindergarten. Our class did a mini-election based on the real election that year: Carter vs. Ford. I asked my parents which to vote for, and they said to vote for Ford, so I did. I think Carter won. (I mean in my kindergarten class, not just in real life.)

  11. I remember feeling very sad in 1976, when in was 8, because Carter won. I didn’t really understand the differences between the candidates–all I knew was that my parents had not wanted Carter to win. I also remember when my mother took me to the airport in San Diego in 1980 to watch one of the Iran Hostages arrive in his home town.

  12. I remember in grade school stumping for Nixon in 1968. I also remember my parents a few years later taking petitions around asking for Gerald Ford’s impeachment for pardoning Nixon.
    I was on my mission in Bolivia in 1980 when the first election of Reagan happened, and I was eligible. I was not able to get an absentee ballot in time. I would have voted for Reagan. I gladly voted for Reagan in 1984, and GHW Bush in 1988.

    By 1992, I was ready for a change, as Bush had left the Reagan concepts behind, and voted for Ross Perot.

    I was not inspired for several elections, though I forced myself to vote Republican, as I felt the Democrats were worse choices.

    In this campaign, it was a tough choice for me. While I voted Libertarian, I am glad that Pres Obama won of the two major candidates.

    I consider myself independent, but conservative in many ways. However, I think there can be useful ways in which to use government, if done prudently. I’m hoping Pres Obama will cautiously tread the minefield over the next several years.

  13. I vaguely remember the 88 election. I was in elementary school, and I voted for Bush in our class election.

    Therefore, I was not a fan of Clinton, especially during the scandals which we discussed at length in my HS Government class.

    At BYU, I majored in Poli Sci, and loved learning about the political process (I even TA’d the American Govt classes).
    I helped run the UT exit polls in 2000, and was shocked at the big mess in Florida. At that point, my political leanings were changing, so I remember being mostly disappointed that the candidate who got the most votes didn’t win the election. (What kind of country does that? Don’t we overthrow those kinds of governments?)

    By 2004 I was totally a Democrat, living in a conservative ward in Gilbert, AZ, and someone as a ‘joke’ put a Bush bumper sticker on the outside of my garage door, which I didn’t find for quite a while (I never found out who it was). Thus, I was disappointed in the outcome of that election.

    In sum, since my party affiliation changed in college, this is the first time in my life that my party has been in power.
    It’s kinda nice to actually like the President in office. I hope he stays a long time.

  14. I think remembering past election cycles is valuable beyond just thinking about who won the election. The perspective we gain by comparing similar events in different eras enlightens our voting and political sensibility.

    For the most current example, many voters, and even commentators on TV, have described the economy as being in the worst mess since the Depression. That might be true, but it isn’t obviously true. Consider the following points:

    When Reagan took office, unemployment was 7.5%, inflation was 13%, and the prime lending rate was 21.5%. Obama comes into office with unemployment at 5%, the prime rate in the low single digits, and non-existent inflation. And yes, Obama has wars on his hands in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Lincoln could look out the window of the white house at Arlington, VA, and see gun emplacements across the Potomac, pointed his way. I really liked Obama’s speech Tuesday, but a few months from now, if we took the text of an inaugural speech from Clinton, Bush 41, Reagan, Bush 43, and Obama, and took the names off, most of us couldn’t identify who was speaking. A sense of perspective inoculates us against the hyperbole that hovers around these events like a cloud of flies on a manure pile.

    Lest anybody think that I am a hopeless cynic, I want to hurry and say that inaugurations are wonderful. I love the sense of continuity and the celebration of our history, and of representative democracy.

  15. So fun. I barely remember the outpouring of emotion at the death of FDR. When Truman ran for Pres. he had a whistle stop campaign, which actually stopped in our little Utah town. The mayor gave a flowery speech and presented Truman with a stalk (bunch?) of locally grown—celery! When Eisenhower and Stevenson were running in 1952 we had two new kittens who we named Ike and Adlai. My Dad was always very political and very Democrat. When Ike won the grocer next door to where my Dad worked made a point of giving us kids all ice cream bars, knowing we would walk next door and our Dad would ask where we got them. Even so we weren’t above eating Republican ice cream–for free. The voting age had not yet been lowered when JFK abd Nixon ran. As I recall I was ambivalant about that election anyway. I never liked Johnson so I voted for Goldwater. After that politics are a blur until the Reagan years. (Too busy raising kids, I guess.) At first I liked Reagan, but before he had finished his second term I was so disillusioned that I became an avowed “mugwump” for the next twenty years. I started to come to life again during the Clinton years. I actually liked Clinton. Even with the scandals. I thought of a Jaredite king who, to paraphrase, dealt justly with his people, but not himself, because of his many whoredoms. George W. was an exercise in endurance. I was not sure the country could survive him (and I’m still not sure we will survive the mess he has created.) Nevertheless, I cautiously voted for Obama (I voted for no one for president the previous two rounds since nobody was who I wanted, given the choices.) I hope and pray for Obama’s success. I even almost got me an Obama sign, but I didn’t know where to get one (but I’m sure I could have figured it out) but more compelling, I have a six year old grandson who is about the most partisan Republican I have ever met. (A candidate for state office told me that “B” was about the cutest –and youngest–campaigner in the whole state.) He really was pretty cute with his knickers and newsboy hat. Late in the campaign we were talking about someone at a family gathering and someone said that so and so was a good member of the Church. “B” piped up and said, “Yes, but is he a good Republican?” So given all that I was pretty sure there would be no way to explain an Obama sign to that six year old. Maybe next election cycle when he will be older.


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