My grandfather, Ivan Merrick Sr., ran for congress in 1936 on the democratic ticket. He didn’t win. Warren Magnuson did. He did remain faithful to the party. He took his grandchildren to the Benton County Democratic picnic, exposing us to sweet watermelon, red, white and blue bunting and campaign buttons. He held cocktail parties for party luminaries, including his formal rival, Senator Warren Magnuson. He and his wife Florence used to sit side by side in matching turquoise chairs watching “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation.” Their devotion to politics imprinted on me that it was a sacred obligation to pay attention.
Heroes emerged on the national stage. Martin Luther King cocked his head to one side and looked up from the paperwork on his desk. He had time to listen as well as preach. Bobbie Kennedy sat cross-legged on the floor with a glass of orange juice in his hand. He had time to take a breath and reflect. We had images of the heroes delivering fiery speeches and images of them in quiet moments of thoughtfulness. They listened and understood and could lead us to be a better world. The democrats were more than campaign buttons, they had a blue print to fix our pain. Bullets removed these heroes from the national stage and we all became a little bit numb.
Growing up in Seattle Washington, in the 1960s, the only republican I knew was a rabid anti-communist named Mrs. Waters. Mrs. Waters called my mother a “Bleeding Heart Liberal” as if it was some kind of a sad disease. She brought a sort of evangelical zeal to her political diatribes. It was pretty much impossible to get a word in edgewise when Mrs. Waters lectured from her little soap box. She was feisty, opinionated and unyielding. Her righteousness and machine gun delivery of her positions were not compelling to anyone but those already in her choir.
In 1969 she escorted a few of the willing teen-agers to a “Youth Decency Rally” held at the Arena at Seattle Center. Bands played “Anchors Away” and pretty young women in sparkling red, white and blue costumes strutted on stage. A girl from our high school, who was known for being perky and pretty, chirped into a microphone about values. I knew enough about that girl that I didn’t believe a word she said. I was unmoved by the flag waving, snare drums and glitter. If that was what the GOP had to offer, I was unimpressed.
Over the years, I drifted away from politics. I continued to vote, but I found the yammering righteousness on both sides of the spectrum to be wearing. I felt powerless and disenfranchised. Nobody seemed to listen anymore. There was an abundance of arrogance and self indulgence. National politics was a club house game for the Skull and Bones set and seemed far removed from the nobility of national service. The brilliant William Jefferson Clinton blew his political capital on self-indulgence and his rivals wasted our tax dollars on a witch hunt.
The country club ran the country and we stopped watching. We stopped caring.
Something happened during the last eight years of the Bush 43 administration that made us realize that our collective indifference had a very high price tag. The power elite consolidated their power and showed gross indifference to the world at large. Two wars bloomed along with the deficit. We rationalized torture. We saw our constitution compromised. Our president stopped to the podium and we cringed. He failed to provide leadership and confidence. Instead he gave us mangled verbs and occasional bonhomie.
In 2004, Howard Dean sang out this truth and excited those of us who felt previously dismissed. Howard Dean said that we should use our power in a way that is moral and just. I was sure that Dr. Dean was the man to restore our collective sanity. Then a single speech was distorted and replayed until he became dismissed as a late night talk show joke.
It didn’t seem possible, but Bush 43 got four years to indulge in his whims and damage our standing in the world, the environment and the very ideals of our own founding fathers.
Now, we are finally at liberty to clean up the mess.
I posit that our political parties have both failed us and brought us to this precipice. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are without shame. I further and most importantly suggest that heroes have risen up in both parties who bring nobility and grace to public service.
While we work to sweep up this mess and regain our faith in the ideals of our founding fathers, let us remember to listen to the other side and show respect. We can not afford to waste any more time or take one another for granted.
We need to not only hold our public officials accountable. We also need to show gratitude, regardless of party affiliation, for their service to our country. There is too much at stake. We can’t leave it all to Team Obama. If there are lessons to learn, it’s that we need to pay attention and we need to be engaged. We need to listen and show respect to one another. We all need to contribute to moving our country forward and out of this mess.