How I became a Republican

A follow up to the previous post.

So Grandma got us a room in the Duluth Radisson.

Grandma and I call our Wednesdays with the boys “Wacky Wednesday” because they spend it away from their own home. We take them to the Mount Royal Library (thank you Duluth voters for voting to keep it open last fall) and then go to Bulldog Pizza where our grandson’s “pizza friends” serve up salad, pizza and chocolate milk. While we wait for the grub we read a few of the twenty books we usually check out.

We told the Tan Man and Jake-ee that this would be the wackiest Wednesday of all. They got to go swimming in the “round hotel,” eat in the 14th floor restaurant and watch Duluth at dusk circle around our table while we dined. The restaurant has been faithfully revolving for forty and more years.

We stayed in one of the pie wedge shaped rooms on the sixth floor. It was my second stay in one of them. The last time was almost forty years ago in 1973. It was the night that cemented my joining the Republican Party.

Before this blog and my formal retreat from the GOP I wrote a bit about my tortured Republican credentials on my now seldom updated website: www.snowbizz.com. For this post a little background is necessary.

When I entered college I was not affiliated with either party and like all good contrarians considered such an affiliation a blemish on my independent nature. My Grandfather was a fiercely loyal Republican. His hero was Barry Goldwater champion of the 1964 presidential debacle. A war hero George Robb was torn between his conviction that American Wars were mostly a stupid Democrat affliction on the nation and his stout belief in the old saw “my country right or wrong.” (in other words: even if our side is wrong its still our side)

He gave me a stern but perplexing lecture about this when I was twelve. He was profoundly sorry to learn that my liberal father, who cursed LBJ’s expansion of the Vietnam War, had persuaded his daughter, (my Mother) to vote for the Democrat who would soon expand the war, rather than his hero who seemed intent on dropping a hydrogen bomb on the Vietnamese. [Having had a son who had to sign up for the Selective Service during the War on Terror I now appreciate what my Father must have been thinking when I was in junior high facing a looming war that would not be over until after I graduated from college.]

I was drawn to peace parades in my college years and yet my parents had so thoroughly raised me to venerate my Grandfather that I had nothing but contempt for my simple-minded anti-war friends who saw the world in black and white, to wit: Nixon is a Republican. Nixon is still conducting the War. Republicans are war mongers.

Such thinking didn’t account for my liberal anti-war Republican parents. It didn’t account for my Grandfather’s hatred of war or the Democrats who kept putting Grandfather in the position of defending America when they got us into an ill advised war. Neither did it account for the possible massacre of our Vietnamese allies who had trusted that we would go the distance with them should we leave them high and dry.

I knew that under any circumstances I would be voting for the Democrat George McGovern in 1972 even as a newly minted College Republican. In other unrelated activies I happened to meet a CR from St. Cloud State who recruited me to join the Mankato CR’s. (The Mankato CR’s were an odd bunch. It was a small pot smoking, anti-war crowd beleaguered by the general contempt for Richard Nixon on the college campus.)

Being me, I joined them even knowing that I would never vote to reelect the President.

I’ll cut to the Radisson chase now by just observing that I had a busy summer in 1972 working for the Republican Party in Minnesota and eschewing anything to do with Nixon’s Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP).

The state of the College Republicans across Minnesota was not very healthy in the Nixon years but it was more robust in other colleges than it was at Mankato. Among my summer buddies in 1972 was the heir apparent for the state-wide College Republican Presidency. Spencer’s politics weren’t all that different from mine except that he had been in College Republican circles for three years to my six months and he was from a far more partisan family. But Spencer got cold feet as the CR’s Spring 1973 Convention in Duluth drew near. Everyone in the CR’s who found out Spencer wouldn’t be running began a desperate search for an alternative. That’s how a day or two before the convention a group of CR’s persuaded me to throw my hat into the ring. Like many fool who’s head has been turned I agreed despite knowing little about the organization.

The convention brought me to Duluth for the second time in my life. The evening before the big election I was hustled in literal circles around the Radisson to room after room to be introduced to different college delegations as the heir apparent’s heir. I was a shoo-in as there was no other candidate. That night was a heady experience. Everyone was very eager to meet the heir’s heir. I felt a little like a veterinarian at a doctor’s convention but not at all nervous.

The next day everyone was abuzz with word that the heir apparent had packed up and heading out of Duluth, perhaps shamed by his cowardice or whatever mixed feelings had overtaken him. Then it was time for the election. A charade of a presidential nomination ensued with seconding speeches. It was a smaller version of a major political party nomination. Many college Republican had been rounded up to extol my virtues. All that was left was for me to seal the deal with a speech. I had decided to extemporize. Big mistake.

I went to the dais and looked out on 200 hundred or more strangers in a strange land. My mind suddenly became entirely disembodied from the string bean standing up to give a speech. My mind spoke to me. “What the hell are you doing here?” it asked. My mouth found itself in a terrible quandary. It had a speech to give but my brain was busy telling me that this was a great mistake and could not supply an extemporaneous speech. It was too busy contemplating the foolishness of leading an organization which required me to say complimentary things about a President I had no use for. Amazingly, for a man once terrorized by the thought of another panic attack, I gazed out at the throng with a formidable equanimity. I was suddenly caught in my childhood nightmare of finding myself stripped naked at the public swimming pool. With no help from my brain my mouth began saying things as though guided by my autonomic nervous system. Unfortunately the autonomic system could do little more than retrive random ideas from the prefrontal lobe kind of like spilling out jigsaw puzzle pieces from a box.

I watched as once eager eyes began looking at me with abject horror. This blubbering, incomprehensible candidate was uncontested. That meant he would soon be their symbol and spokesman.

Someone saved the day by nominating the fleeing heir apparent and the conventioneers gratefully elected him. He learned of his victory after returning home. No doubt the manner of his win erased any fear of disappointing the College Republicans. I’m glad I could contribute that to his year of leadership.

To this day I’m grateful to those delegates. They taught me a valuable lesson. Humiliation need not last a lifetime.

It would be fair to say that for the next thirty years I remained as awkward a Republican as this peculiar introduction presaged. I’m still a contrarian. My political views have changed little since college or junior high for that matter. No matter who its current landlords are the political party birthed by Abraham Lincoln will have a place in my head and heart until the day I die. Someday I hope the Grand Old Party is run by people who can think back that far.