Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, August 25, 2012

How I Became a Democrat--and Why I've Remained One

In this era of demonizing political opponents (all on the left are socialists/communists; all on the right, Nazis) I thought I'd make a stab at humanizing the debate a little.  In the next few days I want to tell some stories about my own political journey.  I'll try to avoid hyperbole and animosity and focus on the experiences that have shaped my political views.  Naive, I know.  But still ...  Maybe some understanding can occur if there are fewer sparks but more steady light.

Our house was full of Republicans in the 1950s.  My dad, mom, my two brothers, and I--all of us Liked Ike in 1952 and 1956 and believed the Republican slant that Adlai Stevenson was a out-of-touch egghead.  An intellectual.  As I think about it, that was an odd notion to reign in our home.  My father had a Ph.D.; my mom would soon begin work on hers; all three sons later charged off into Ph.D. programs (two of us finishing).  Our heads, it seems, were a bit ovoid, too.

Some of our relatives and family friends were Democrats.  But it was a fairly quiet era then (at least among our friends) when folks in one  political party did not equate membership in the other with Evil.  In fact, my dad's best friend--Dr. Paul F. Sharp--was a staunch Democrat.  Dad had met him at Phillips University back in the 1930s, where both Dad and Dr. Sharp met their wives.  They were four fast friends--for a lifetime.  In 1957 Dr. Sharp became president of Hiram College, where my dad was teaching.  And when he left seven years later, it was devastating for my parents.  They had spent holidays together (Thanksgiving, Christmas), had gone to dinner often.  Socialized all the time.  But only a couple of years later, in 1966, Dr. Sharp, now the president of Drake University, lured both of my parents onto the Drake faculty in Des Moines, where my mom and dad stayed and retired.  (But Dr. Sharp, ever restless, went to assume the presidency of the University of Oklahoma--I think it was in 1972.  He stayed until his own retirement.)

Anyway, although my parents disagreed with the Sharps on many political issues, I never witnessed any acrimonious arguments.  Those times when they did disagree in front of us generally ended in teasing and laughter.  Those were the days.  Agreeing to disagree.  Not creating for the other a new circle in the Inferno.

In the 1960 presidential election (JFK v. Nixon) our house was firmly in Nixon's camp--and when JFK won, I remember my older brother (he was about to turn 19), deeply disappointed, saying something like this: It's the first shotgun marriage in the White House--and will probably be the first divorce.  Sex before marriage.  Divorce.  The darkest of sins in our family.  (Neither, by the way, did or would occur in the JFK White House--though there were, of course, those Marilyn-Monroe moments.)

Years later, my mom, converted to the Democrats, told me that she'd voted for JFK.  She said lots of women she knew had done that--had agreed with their Republican husbands, then, behind the curtain, worked a different magic.  Made Camelot possible.  I want to believe her.  And so I will.

As I said, Dad loved Ike.  One of Dad's favorite stories: the time he shook the General's hand in a mess test one rainy morning in France, WW II.  Maybe Dad washed that hand in the decades to follow; maybe not.  But as the years rolled on through the turbulent sixties and on into the seventies and beyond (Dad died in 1999), he moved farther to the right and retained his adamantine positions to the day he died.  The papers then--1999--were full of negative things about Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Dad believed all of them.  I think he really believed that Hillary had pulled the trigger on Vince Foster and that she and Bill were the Spawn of Satan.

Watergate hearings
By the mid-1960s all three of the Dyer boys were Democrats.  Mom, too.  But after a fierce argument one day around the time of the Watergate hearings (Dad believed on his deathbed that Nixon had done nothing wrong)--that was 1972--my brothers and I talked together and decided we would no longer argue politics with him.  The reason?  Simple and complex.  We loved him.  Deeply loved him.  He had grown up on an Oregon farm, worked his way through college during the Depression. Served in both theaters in WW II.  Returned to service during the Korean War.  Stayed in the Air Force Reserves to make sure Mom would have his pension (she still does).  Preached in various churches around the area on Sunday for extra income.  Taught in summer school, every year, for the same reason.  Worked hard to put his sons through college.

So it seemed--what?--profoundly ungrateful, even disrespectful, to argue bitterly with this man who had done so much for all of us.  We owed him peace, we agreed, in his declining years.  And so we gave it to him.  With love ... and with no regrets whatsoever.


Part II (Sunday)--So why did all three Dyer boys and their mother shift party allegiances?
Part III (Monday)--How have my political beliefs manifested themselves?  Then?  Now?
Part IV (Tuesday)--Why I will vote to re-elect President Obama, even though I'm not thrilled with some of his policies and actions.

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