Lessons in political science – and reality

The late erudite news anchor, Peter Jennings, once said, “Presidents come and go, usually doing less good than you hoped they might, and less harm than you feared they could.”

My first lesson in political science came in the seventh grade at a Friday school assembly. Two candidates earnestly spoke about rights, obligations, reform and giving voice to the unrepresented. The only platform the third candidate ran on was a promise to bring chocolate milk to the student cafeteria. Chocolate milk won in a landslide.


“I’m a dreaming man, I guess that’s my problem.” 

– Neil Young, from Dreaming Man

Since 1955, when I was born, the United States has had 12 presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to the current officeholder. Three have penetrated my dreams.

My numerous Ronald Reagan dreams were always the same. The Gipper and I were usually at a Hollywood party. I’d be pestering Ron about some issue on which we disagreed, and he would put his arm around my shoulder like an older uncle and say, “You take all this political stuff way too seriously, Joe, let me introduce you to Frank Sinatra.” 

Bill Clinton showed up one time in a dream reminiscent of Animal House‘s famous toga party. And “you know who” commanded the keg and the exuberant “shotgunning.” No one in my unconscious mind has ever enjoyed a frat house party as much as Bill did.

The current officeholder has appeared in one dream, and it was like I had to meet Tony Soprano after missing a few loan payments. Yikes!


 “Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others their principles for the sake of their party.” 

– Winston Churchill

My all-time favorite politician is four-time Louisiana Gov. Edwin “Eddie” Edwards. While running for his final term in 1991, the field was like the cast of Deadwood, including two Eds, a former head of the Ku Klux Klan, a Clyde, Buddy, Cousin, Sam, Anne, John, Albert, Ronnie, and a Fred. The only characters missing were Foghorn Leghorn (running for the Green Party) and Wile E. Coyote (running for the Libertarians).

So despicable was David Duke, the Klansman, that President George H.W. Bush (R) joined nearly the entire national Republican leadership in rejecting the former Klansman running in their party. 

Bush condemned Duke with a civil eloquence that is sadly missing today, saying: “When someone has a long record, an ugly record, of racism and bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign. So I believe David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he’s attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana. I believe he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.”

So confident of victory against Duke was Edwards, he used several colorful descriptions – not fit for this newspaper – to describe his overwhelmingly favorable odds. They are easy to track down online if you’re interested in reading them verbatim. 


“If You Can’t Trust Me, Who Can You Trust?” 

– Former California governor and presidential hopeful, Jerry Brown

I’ve shaken the hands of numerous politicians, including five governors, three U.S. senators, a handful of congresspersons (one I hugged, multiple times), one presidential candidate, one of Jane Fonda’s former husbands, and even the mayor of Paris.

I shook hands with a Congressman, known for his friendliness, during a private interview with him at a fundraiser I covered for a small magazine. It was all giggles and grins until I exhausted my softball questions (What is your favorite breakfast? Do you prefer dogs or cats?) and fired one in high and tight questioning his effectiveness. He didn’t like that, and I’ve never seen ice form the way it did when he glared toward his Chief of Staff to get him away from me. That was an eye-opener!  

Handshakes may not tell you everything, but they tell you something.


“… No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

– Churchill


I’ve got friends who don’t vote because they’re waiting for a dream candidate. It doesn’t bother me that people don’t vote unless they declare they wish they could vote for someone instead of the lesser of two evils. Much as I may wish a candidate stood for what I believe, I’ve been alive too long to think it will ever happen so I take what little there is. After all, the lesser of two evils is still less evil. I am realistic about elections. I’ll spend a few hours doing research, talk with others who know more than I do, and then fill in my ballot. If that’s the least little bit I do to fulfill my responsibility in American democracy, so be it. It may not be perfect, but it’s what I can do. 


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