I was six years old on the eve of the Ford-Carter Presidential election, and I’d heard lots of talk around the house about voting. The grownups were all discussing who was voting for whom, and why, and I was trying to make my own decision. Somehow, I’d missed the memo that you had to be eighteen to vote, and so I fully anticipated pulling levers of my own on Election Day. I wanted to make well informed choices.
"I’m trying to decide who I want to vote for," I announced one night at dinner.
"Is that so?" my mother said. "And what are you thinking?"
"Well, I’m not sure if I want Ford or Carter," I said, sighing. "Which one do you think would let me go out trick-or-treating without wearing a coat over my Halloween costume?" (I was one of those single-issue voters.)
"Hmph. Probably Carter," my father said. "He’s irresponsible."
"Oh good! Then that’s who I’m voting for." I got up to get a cookie.
"No, no, wait…don’t you see? Ford would be more like a father. He wouldn’t want you to catch a cold. You want someone like that, don’t you?"
No. I didn’t. I’d had it with giant winter coats swallowing my costumes. Enough was enough, though I think I probably let the conversation go at that point.
I didn’t get to vote that year, and I considered it a great injustice. But this Election Day, I do. These days, health care and education and social justice have replaced Halloween outerwear at the top of my issues list, but I’m still thankful for the conversations around that dinner table at my house back in 1976 and in the years that followed. They paved the way for me to be aware and involved, and though I still disagree with my dad on plenty of issues, I’m thankful that we talked about things then, and still do.
One of my favorite quotes from the 2008 election season came not from one of the candidates, but from Bob Schieffer, who quoted his mom at the end of the final debate.
"Go vote now. It will make you feel big and strong."