Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Life Watching Politics on Television

As I sit down tonight to watch the State of the Union Address, I was thinking of all of the past presidents I have watched on TV in my 42 years.

My very first presidential TV moment was in 1977.  I was in first grade at Homewood Heights Elementary School in Creve Coeur, Illinois.  My first grade teacher was Mrs. Kluge.  In January 1977, the first grade teachers gathered all of us into one of the little classrooms, rolled in a big TV, and had a group of 6 and 7 year olds watch the Inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.  It seem boring and torturous at the time, but I remember it.  I remember being excited that the president had a little girl, just like me.  So, at the age of 6, I remember my first moment with politics and TV.

I remember March 30, 1981.  As I left my 5th grade classroom at Willow Elementary School in Pekin, Illinois, the parent of one of my classmates sent the child back in to the school to tell Mr. Muren that the "president had been shot."  I spent that entire day glued to the TV at my babysitter's home watching the coverage.  I remember Alexander Haig (and yes, I actually remember this) saying, "I am in control here."  To get out of the 5th grade, I had to pass an Illinois State Constitution test and a US Constitution test.  I had the most amazing 5th grade teacher on the planet, and I knew that Alexander Haig was not one of the people we had discussed when we talked about presidential succession. 

I remember President Reagan addressing the nation on January 28, 1986 on the evening of the Space Shuttle disaster.  He seemed like a grandfather to me (and he was older than my own grandfather who, ironically, died on the day of the Reagan assassination attempt).  I somehow felt better when Reagan spoke.  I can see why people have fond memories of him.  Memories are funny, though.  The Teflon President still seems to have few bad things associated to him.  I won't badger him on this post, but perception and reality are quite different.

I was at a school in Texas during Reagan's funeral.  At my request, we paused the demonstration for about 45 minutes and watched the funeral live.  What can I say?  I'm an American first and a Democrat second.  He was the president during my growing up years, and there is a soft spot in my heart for "Uncle Ron."  I call all of the president's "Uncle."  Don't try and understand it.  It's a Wendy thing.

I have to tell you, I think I skipped both Nixon's and Ford's funerals.  Back to TV memories....

My Clinton memory is not the one you may be thinking of (the "I did not have sex with that woman" memory).  1988 was the first year I could vote.  The summer between my senior year in high school and my first year at Bradley University, I lived with my aunt and uncle in Arkansas.  I worked my last summer at the famous family Donut Shop.  I had a lot of time on my hands that summer, so I took it upon myself to watch the Democratic National Convention.  That was the first Clinton speech that I ever heard, and I remember it.  I actually remember thinking, "He might be president someday."
My dad told me this past summer that I had actually heard Clinton speak a few years before the DNC convention in 1988.  I spent most of my summers in Hot Springs, Arkansas with my dad, and one year on the 4th of July, he took us to see the fireworks that were....wait for the Wal-Mart parking lot.  Clinton (according to Dad) spoke at that event.  I can't make this crap up....Clinton, Wal-Mart...parking lot.  I probably don't remember that because I was so traumatized by the falling firework debris that was LANDING ON SPECTATORS! 

I also remember watching TV the day Clinton left office.  I have to admit, I cried a bit.  Interpret that however you will.

You notice I skipped 41?  I have no powerful memories of George H.W. Bush.  I have more memories of Dana Carvey's portrayal of Bush than Bush himself.  I liked 41; I actually thought he was an OK President.  As I sit here thinking about why I have few memories of watching 41 on TV, it probably was because his tenure as president coincided with the four years that I was in college.  Quite simply, we didn't have a TV in our dorm room.  We had one in the TV lounge, but I didn't do too much TV watching in college.  Honestly, it probably has more to do with accessibility to a TV than anything else. 

George W. Bush.  Oh, he was not the orator.  In fact, watching Bush speak made me terribly uncomfortable.  My most memorable TV moment with Bush was during the State of the Union in 2003.  I was traveling that day, and I was in the Delta Connection Terminal at the Cincinnati Airport.  I stood close to one of those TVs mounted from the ceiling and listened to the SOU.  I will never forget hearing the famous "16 Words,":  "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."  I think I said (in my out loud voice), "What the F---?"  My gut told me that it wasn't true.  I knew that there was NO WAY that this info was making its public debut in the State of the Union.  I would like to say thank you to George Bush for putting a fire in me that propelled me all the way through the completion of my thesis.  I spent a year of my life writing about why the US invaded Iraq in 2003.  We now know that those 16 words were unsubstantiated and false, but back when I was writing my thesis, people still believed.

That is all I have to say about Bush...because I'm trying to be kind (-ish).

Obama.  I have a few TV memories of Obama.  I remember when he teared up at the DNC when he talked about his grandmother who recently passed away.  I was alone in my hotel room in Portland, Oregon in 2008 when he was named the president-elect.  I cried and cried and cried as he gave his speech in Chicago.  I was so hopeful.  I watched the Obama Inauguration with ALL of my kids; they happened to have the day off of school.  The many people in Washington, D.C.  I will never, ever forget that.

I'm grateful for all of my presidents in one way or another.  I'm also grateful for the technology of television that brings my president right into my living room, my office, an airport TV, my first grade classroom....

Here's looking forward to 42 more year of presidential TV memories....

1 comment:

Betty Grace said...

I love this. I so admire you and your passion for politics.