Ed.: 011518 – Words: 1398 – Audio: N/A
Not long ago I reflected back on my early Republican “wonder years” to do a here-and-now comparison. I was born in Truman’s final year in office. I was raised by parents of the Greatest Generation who had what was then traditional Republican leanings; mostly as it related to less governmental involvement the better. Neither parent were overly vocal on their politics, although both seemed happy when Eisenhower took office. I never heard dad grousing about the house complaining about those “bums in office”, whomever they might have been at the time. But in the same vein… my folks did impress upon me, especially my mother (it’s the role of mothers to impress upon their children most things) that you just don’t dismiss all politicians as corrupt and complain about the system in general. After all, it’s that system they (that generation) defended against fascism and Japanese imperialism (they won their war)… and now MacArthur (my namesake) was stopping those godless Commies in Korea.
We lived in Chicago… a staunch democrat-controlled machine city for decades, yet we lived in a very republican ward on the city’s far northwest side. City politics is not national politics. Party affiliation was really less about some national perspective and more about bitching that the other party was the epitome of corruption and that the Mayor always had cronies to satiate… and the potholes in the streets that needed filling in the Spring was always done in the democratic wards first. The political word of choice in those days was “machine”; the democratic machine ran the city, the city council. The political enforcement arm of city government was the Streets & Sanitation Department, who served Mayor Richard Daley (and his son decades later) for a couple decades. When the lumbering behemoth Streets & San trucks showed up in your neighborhood with the snow plows affixed to the front ends, things got done. Equally when they showed up with shovel crews, tree mulchers, hot tar.. street sweepers… you knew you were in the Mayor’s good graces. In one case I witnessed first hand, the Streets & San “goons” showed up to flex city muscle.
In October of 1963 the city was excited and preparing for a visit from President Kennedy (the following November was his demise). Since absolutely no one visited Chicago without kissing the ring of Mayor Daley… and no one could have given the entire city and county to Kennedy’s election other than Daley, the visit was a joint kumbaya moment. Kennedy’s expected route of travel in the bubble top limo was the expressway (to bear his name in a few months sadly) from O’Hare to downtown. Along the expressway route were the various crossover bridges representing various neighborhood main drags. People would inevitably hang their homemade signs welcoming the President from these bridges (no high fences in those days).
At our local elementary school (I was in sixth grade) our student council decided to make a banner.. “Onahan School Welcomes Pres. Kennedy”. Then we took the banner to one of the nearby overpass bridges (my mother was one of the transport moms) and draped it across and down. It wasn’t ostentatious by any measure, but noticeable for sure if you were to pass under it. Looking from our bridge down either side of the expressway you could see similar activity on other bridges. Other groups also placed their own artwork on our bridge… and it all looked very decorated.
Up came a huge city Streets & San dump truck. A crew jumped out, went to the edge of the bridge and starting ripping away, vigorously, our banner and all the artwork…. to the screaming objections of all us school kids. “Just step aside and leave them do their job, kids.” My mother understood. Those “goons” put up a huge “The City Of Chicago Welcomes President Kennedy” sign stretching the entire length of the bridge. The whole scene was a reminder of the scene in the Jimmy Stewart movie, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”, when the political roughnecks push the kids aside and grabbed their newspapers.
My mother… a cultural progressive of uncommon stature in those days.. for a parent… simply reminded us that it wasn’t about the banner… it was about seeing President Kennedy… and if you wave at him.. that’s better than a banner. It was a learning moment for all of us. I did wave at Kennedy.. and honestly.. he waved back at me directly. As least that’s how I recall it.
Mother said, “Some people say political machines are bad. When you are running a city as large as Chicago you need a machine to keep it all running smooth. Otherwise each side will want things done their own way and nothing would get done.” You got a point there, mom. In city politics anywhere, you will not be mayor long if the garbage men go on strike and the snowplows don’t do their job quickly enough… the hell with republican vs. democrat differences.
In spite of our childhood desire to wave at President Kennedy I do recall many adults of our seemingly isolated Republican 41st Ward having huge opinions bordering on hatred for the Kennedy’s personally as well as Mayor Daley. It was about that time where I started formulating political thought.. and not only that, I actually wanted a career in politics; and I was not even out of elementary school yet. Of course at that age my desire to engage in politics was less about substance and likely fed by my perceptions, incorrect or not, of the trappings of elected office. But the desire for something was there.
When the 60’s exploded I was in high school and the period from 1968-1970 was complete chaos of cultural shift and the world gone nuts. There were two periods of my life where I actually felt embarrassed by government. The first was those City of Chicago cops clubbing their way through the crowds in Grant Park smack during the 1968 Democratic Convention on national TV. Smug-assed Mayor Daley turning the city into a police state.
The second time in my life… was when Trump won the election and his performance, or lack thereof, since… just plain made me embarrassed as an American… and that lives on at the moment.
But in those days when I was a teen I was pretty much an “America, love it or leave it.” kinda guy. “My country, right or wrong!” I did have a deep respect for authority and I absolutely hated hippies for challenging authority. I was for the War… the government knew better… or so I thought. I thought people on welfare were freeloaders; unemployed people preferred not working for a paycheck. I couldn’t have been more… incorrect in my thoughts and opinions. I even sometimes reflect back thinking how many discussions and debates was I engaged in at the time where I actually convinced someone to my side of things. Then I feel guilt for convincing them. Although, I am somewhat encouraged now knowing no one cares about my opinion.. hence they likely didn’t back then either. Phew.
So what changed?
Simply living life, observing people. Understanding shit can happen to some, and good opportunities can fall to others. Life was not black & white… and political viewpoints were as absurd and abstract as the number of people in the country. I learned that change is inevitable and it is necessary for humanity to survive. The speed of that change? That’s the variable… which I think is the essence these days. There’s a large segment of society who hasn’t adjusted well to the cultural and social change, and economic shifts, over the last decade or two. They feel alone, isolated, and not represented in government… most important, they think “their” country is going to crap… when all it is, is yet another cultural and economic shift for the better. For the better??? I suppose that makes me a bit of a progressive along with my liberal conservatism.
All I know is that the old republicanism is gone for some Trumpian bastardization of his kind of conservatism.