I cast my first ballot in a Presidential election in November of 1976. I had turned 18 just a few days before the registration deadline and made sure I headed straight for the closest Maricopa County registrar in Phoenix the moment I got out of class. I was a freshman in college, majoring in history, and I wanted to make sure I was able to vote. I have rarely missed an election since then.
Straight party voting has never had an appeal to me. People generally do not line up so easily or regularly behind political party banners, which is one of the benefits of having a system of totally secret ballots. And so, over the years, as I have looked at candidates and decided who I would vote for, it has mainly been the person, and the quality of leadership they deliver, or at least demonstrate the potential for delivering, that has attracted me to some, and made me think twice about others.
If I understand the principle behind “representative” government, I think “representative” is the key word. Politicians who package themselves wrapped up inside a party platform and an agenda are representing the interests of the agenda. And that means that they are not likely to be hitting very many common interests when it comes to representing me. I would prefer a candidate who comes from among the people he or she wants to represent. That’s why I find the Iowa caucuses so intriguing. Here’s a relatively small, obscure state in the middle of the country which holds the very first Presidential preference event of the election season, which more or less requires all the candidates to appear in virtually every county in the state during the campaign season. They have to visit county fairs in small towns, shake hands on courthouse steps, speak to small groups of people in small places like church fellowship halls, barbeque restaurants and even someone’s back yard. Major television ad purchases generally don’t work too well. The best campaign strategy is to make sure that there is a good representative of the candidate at every one of the caucus meetings themselves.
I’m not an easy sell for any candidate. I grew up in a very modest, working class home in which my Dad was the sole provider when it came to income, and my mother took responsibility for raising their two adopted children. My Dad did have a college education, majored in chemistry, and in the early part of my life, worked in a plant that produced explosives for the copper mines in Arizona. He was an operator on the plant’s “NG” (Nitroglycerine) line” which produced dynamite. Money was tight, wages weren’t in line with the demands and dangers of the work performed. Fortunately, he had the foresight to keep an eye out for a job with better conditions, wages and ultimately benefits including retirement, so that he could plan for his future, as well as that of his children. When the civil service opened up hiring at Ft. Huachuca, a military base about 20 miles from where we lived, he applied for a job as an air conditioning maintenance mechanic in the headquarters building on the base, a job for which he had training from his service in the Navy in World War II. He got the job, with a modest, but bigger salary, and the opportunity to save for retirement, which he did. A heart attack and bypass surgery at age 59 qualified him for an early medical retirement. He lived on a modest income all his life, carefully calculating his buying power. He was able to own a small, three bedroom house in which my sister and I were raised, and have it paid off before he retired.
He taught his children to work hard and appreciate what they had. Though I did not have his ability to understand chemistry, or to fix machinery, I did apply the principles he taught about working hard and learning to live modestly. My career in Christian education has provided a small, but steady income, and my wife and I have worked together to build for our future. We have struggled through the years, with things like a chronic illness, uncertainty regarding the future of the schools we have worked for, and even a hurricane. The recession played havoc with the value of our home, though we were fortunate not to be “under water” with it when the time came to move. In all of this, we are not unlike multiple millions of other Americans.
So the question I ask now is whether or not there is a candidate in the race who has any kind of understanding of the kind of life I live, along with millions upon millions of other Americans. I’ve been in a position where I’ve had to choose between paying a monthly premium for health insurance, and putting away some money in a retirement account. I have to drive my vehicles, and keep them running, well past 100,000 miles. Is there a candidate out there who understands that economic choices that are made in my home generally do not even get to the point where I can consider going out to play a round of golf, or going to a college football game in my case? Is there a candidate out there who understands what it feels like to know that if he were suddenly unemployed, unless something else came up in a hurry, he would be 90 days from losing both vehicles and his home? Which candidate understands that an unexpected event like a medical problem or a natural disaster represents a hardship from which financial recovery might not be possible? That’s exactly the life most Americans, myself included, live every day.
So which candidate exhibits the best understanding of all of that? At the moment, I am not aware of any one that does.