This I Believe

Karen - jacksonville, Illinois
Entered on July 12, 2006

Andrew Jackson Was Right

I was raised in a “blended” family, but not in the sense that the term is so commonly used today. My parents had never been divorced. No, our blending was one based on party affiliation. My mom was a Republican-her maiden name was Hoover, for goodness sake! My dad was a New Deal Democrat and considered FDR a personal hero. Not surprisingly, I was raised with interesting, often passionate conversations around me. My father was committed to civil tights; my mother sat my brother and me down to watch Nixon in China. They divided on the war in Vietnam and there were some uneasy truces declared around our house during Watergate just to keep the peace.

I thought this was how everyone grew up. My very first political memory took place during the Kennedy-Nixon presidential election. My father, totally blind since he was a young man, came home from work one day with a Kennedy bumper sticker. With my mother occupied elsewhere, he headed out to our car. There, he felt along the back bumper and affixed the sticker (albeit somewhat crookedly!). He was all smiles that evening. The next morning, my unwitting mother drove him to work completely unaware that her car had turned traitor on her. In fact, she did not discover the bumper sticker until that afternoon when she went to put grocery bags in the trunk. In horror she realized her errands had taken her all over town that day.

But two could play at this game. Before she went to pick up my father, she carefully scraped the bumper sticker off the car. This was, of course, long before the advent of “user-friendly” bumper stickers. Working deliberately, she set aside the pieces as my brother and I danced excitedly around her. This was big. “What are you going to do, Mom?” “Ooh, Daddy’s in trouble now!” She just smiled at us and never said a word. Taking a page from Dad’s book, she was in an excellent mood when she picked him up. She even made is favorite dinner that night (she was that good!!). But not a word about the bumper sticker.

The next morning she packed his lunch and drove him to work.

When my father took his first bite of his sandwich that noon, he discovered his mother was an able adversary. “Let him eat his words,” she chuckled to us as we watched him enter the building. “It won’t be his tastiest sandwich, but I bet he remembers it.”

Despite his many weaknesses and mistakes, I believe Andrew Jackson had it right when he fought for the right of the common person to have a voice in our political system. Each of us, he argued, has unique and individual experiences and values that need to be reflected in the course of political decision-making, that this was entirely too important a proposition to be left only to this with property and power. My parents had neither. But they had voices and values and votes. They used them all and I believe I benift from their example.

My parents never missed and election. In fact, they took it as a matter of great pride that they were usually the first voters in line at the neighborhood elementary school. That meant voting at 6:00 a.m. Every election day, my Republican mother and my blind, Democratic father crowded into the same voting booth. There she read the entire ballot to him and he directed her to cast voted for candidates in direction opposite to the very votes she cast for herself. Friends used to laugh at them. “You just cancel each other out!” they would say. “Why do you even bother?”

I believe it really was no bother. Their government had asked for their opinions, and they took seriously the obligation to offer them.

In many respects, my parents agreed on little besides this. This common man with the crooked bumper sticker, the common woman with the sandwich “surprise,” routinely cast different votes-together. Never once did he suspect that my mother might mark his ballot for her choices. Never once did she give him a reason to. They say that real character is based upon what you do when no one is looking. Every time I pull the curtain behind me to cast my own votes, I remember my parents. Every time I hear yet another story of political scandal and corruption, I believe I understand why Andrew Jackson had a justifiable faith in people just like them. I know I do.