Our presidential debate was in a shambles. Ms. Musselwhite had assigned each group of fourth-graders the task of staging a mock debate and none of us would be Ronald Reagan. Most of us wanted to be John Anderson, a few kids said they guessed they'd play Carter but absolutely everyone refused to be Bonzo. Finally the nerdy boy who always reminded our teacher to collect the homework reluctantly volunteered to play Reagan.
We were a subversive group of nine-year-olds. Our class was the only one to vote for John Anderson in the school-wide mock election--everyone else voted for Carter. In February, when we heard that the President was shot, one girl said what we were all sort of thinking: "I hope he dies and they elect a Democrat." Our teacher was horrified and spent the rest of the day telling us that the Communists in Russia were just waiting to take advantage of a leaderless America. It was the first time I heard about John F. Kennedy.
By eighth grade I no longer thought that assassination was a valid method of getting rid of Republicans. Nor was I really old enough to understand why Walter Mondale inspired little excitement on the part of my Democratic parents. I do remember our Social Studies class attacking one boy who said he thought Ronald Reagan had been a good president. Only our teacher's intervention prevented actual bloodshed. After quieting us Mr. Sasnett remarked "You realize that he's the one who's in the majority in this country. The rest of us are the minority." We thought this was pretty funny. The only Republicans most of us had seen were on television.
My friends and I were more actively political by our senior year of high school. I knew two or three people working for Dukakis and others working for Democrats in local races. At our school newspaper we posted a calendar that said "Countdown to Democracy" and marked off the days to the election. Half the newspaper staff wanted to write about Jesse Jackson but, as editor, I had to run an announcement in the school bulletin for 10 days before two students (out of 1200) came forward and admitted to supporting Republicans.
Think that's bad? By far the biggest surprise at my high school that campaign season was Jennifer Reid. She was a smart, friendly, pretty and very popular senior who was later voted "Most Likely to Succeed." And she was a Republican. No one believed the rumors at first--Republicans were white boys from the suburbs, rich kids who only came to the inner cities to buy drugs. How could anyone as cool as Jenny be a Republican? Finally, someone got up the nerve to ask her. The awful truth was out. There was a Republican in our midst.
None of this behavior was a surprise to anyone familiar with my school. Republicans are scarce in Seattle and even scarcer in the inner cities. The socialist candidate for president recieved more votes in our high school's election than George Bush.
But even in my safe cocoon of liberalism, growing up on the left was a scary business in the '80s. The national popularity of Reagan and Bush seemed endless. I often wondered if there was some sort of nationwide hypnosis going on that I had escaped by not eating bananas or watching "The Golden Girls." By my first year at Harvard, I spoke of a Democratic president in much the same tone as the Red Sox winning the Series.
I got used to being in the opposition. I bought "ReaganComics," read Doonesbury religiously and collected Ed Meese (later Dan Quayle) jokes. My friends and I would try to imagine ways in which a Democrat could be elected--changing to a parliamentary system, reviving seccession, aliens invading the White House. Mostly, however, we just bashed Republicans. It made us feel better and it was easy to do during the Reagan-Bush years.
Last Tuesday even the most radically liberal of my friends were giddy with delight. Clinton may well represent neo-liberalism, a swing to the right. Who cares? We'll quibble over his policies later. Americans actually elected a Democrat! Even with the polls of the previous weeks it was hard to believe that a Democratic president could actually be elected. We Red Sox fans have been close before. All the distinguished commentary in the world didn't match up to watching George Bush concede and hearing the phrase "president-elect Bill Clinton." Some of my friends got drunk, others danced in the streets, some literally thanked God.
Now what do we do?
I don't know anything but opposition. My only memories of Jimmy Carter are restricted to the hostage crisis. How do you show support for an elected official while still keeping your self-respect as a cynical Harvard liberal? Are we not allowed to make "didn't inhale" jokes? Do we stuff adultery and censorship in the same closet the Democrats put Jesse Jackson? No more hooting at spin control efforts? Some underemployed lawyer needs to write How to Win and Feel Good About It: A Guide for Democrats Under 30.
This Democratic guilt complex thing worries me. What's the fun of victory if you can't flaunt it? Harry J. Wilson, everyone's favorite campus Republican, wore a T-shirt with Reagan's face on it to the last day of our "American Presidency" section during our first year. Should I run out and purchase a Clinton T-shirt? (Or one of The Crimson's commemorative victory T-shirts?) Hum "Hail to the Chief" as I walk into tutorial next week? Affect a Southern accent?
Maybe all those soon-to-be-unemployed Republican flaks should get together and start a remedial class on "Enjoying Power."
They've certainly had enough practice.