28 Years with a Bush or Clinton in the White House (and Counting?)
I'm 38. My earliest political memory is a hazy one, seen through a child's eyes. It's of a protest against the Vietnam war to which my mother took me -- it must have been one of the last.
I was about 4, and I remember seeing a uniformed soldier sitting in a metal chair with a set of handcuffs binding his arms to the arm-rests and a piece of tape over his mouth. I remember asking my mother what it was all about, and her explaining to me that he was a soldier who believed the war was bad -- I knew that already, I think -- and that his arms were tied up because people didn't want him to do anything to stop it and his mouth was covered up because people wanted him to shut up.
I knew, vaguely, that Richard Nixon was somehow at fault for this, although I didn't know exactly why.
I have no memory of the Ford administration. I do recall that sometimes, on special occasions, I was allowed to stay up past my bed time on a Saturday night while the grow-ups drank wine and smoked funny-smelling cigarettes and watched Saturday Night Live (hey, it was the 1970s). And I remember Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford, especially, as a 6 year-old, the over-the-top prank falls which just cracked me up.
At some point, my parents bought me a Green Machine, which was way better than a Big Wheel -- not to mention politics -- and I spent the Carter administration careening down our block at break-neck speeds. It's a wonder I survived at all.
I recall thinking of Carter as a caring man who was overmatched by the events of his era. I can conjure up an image of the man, strained and exhausted by the Iran hostage debacle, in the Oval Office. I remember the look on his downcast face, the hollow eyes. In my mind's eye, I can still see the gas lines snaking around the block. On one of those lines, I saw my father almost come to blows with another man -- the only time I'd ever seen him that angry.
Reagan's 1980 election was the first campaign I followed closely -- my political consciousness was born in the months leading up to November of that year. As an 11 year-old, I detested Reagan, and even at that age I could -- and would, happily -- tell you why. My parents were fond of asking people how the country could possibly be hood-winked by such a con-man when an 11 year-old could see through his shtick so clearly.