I've always been a political animal. I think it was in our family DNA. The values my parents raised us with included a deep love of this country and its foundational values of liberty and justice for all -- and they instilled in us a deep sense of our responsibility to participate in the political process.
The first election I remember being aware of was 1960 -- I was 6. Four years later, I walked our precinct with my mom handing out literature for Barry Goldwater. And in fifth grade I won first prize in a D.A.R. essay contest for a piece titled "The Land I Love is America."
Yes, the family political roots went deep.
We watched conventions together -- crunched up on the old couch in the den in front of the black-and-white TV with the rabbit ears, where we stayed up late following election returns. I remember explaining the Electoral College to classmates on the elementary school playground because my daddy explained it to me. And when I was in high school in Santa Barbara I volunteered to drive voters to the polls to make sure that shut-ins had the opportunity to vote. I voted in my first presidential election in 1972 -- the year I turned 18 and they lowered the voting age to 18. I think I thought they did it just for me!
In college I majored in history and political science, with plans to go to law school and thinking that one day I might find my own role in the political process; I believed that the American Dream really is worth the work it takes to preserve and protect it, even as I believed we were not yet "there" in the "liberty and justice for all" part. Along the way I got sidetracked. I never made it to law school and instead stayed home and raised kids and remained a registered Republican -- more out of loyalty to my father than to the GOP -- but increasingly found myself voting "across party lines."
That changed in 1992. I was watching the Republican Convention television coverage -- cooking dinner while my sons did their homework at the kitchen table -- when Pat Buchanan rose to the podium and gave what has come to be known as his "Culture War" speech. I listened with increasing horror as his narrow, exclusivist, fear-mongering rhetoric laid out a vision for what this country needed -- a vision that bore absolutely NO resemblance to the values my parents had raised me to understand were core to the "Grand Old Party" of my Republican roots.
I turned the stove down under the simmering green beans, told the boys to finish their homework and that I'd be right back. I drove the six blocks down to the grocery store where earlier in the day I'd noticed the card table out front with the "Register to Vote" sign. And I changed my party affiliation that day -- explaining to the woman at the card table that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow I was NOT going to die a Republican. And I've never looked back.
And here we are -- nearly 25 years later. What has changed is that my two boys aren't doing homework at the kitchen table. One's in Kentucky working overtime to try to make ends meet and the other is in graduate school on the GI Bill -- after tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
What not only hasn't changed but has exponentially increased is the rabid rhetoric that drove me out of the party in 1992 dominating the discourse from the GOP side of the aisle ... culminating with the anointing this week of Donald Trump as the nominee presumptive. Campaign 2016 is for many life-long Republicans what 1992 was for me: the moment when principles are more important than party. In the words of Red State writer Ben Howe:
Trump is a dangerous, unpredictable man whose aspirations don't align with conservatism. Whose morals are questionable at best. Whose relationship with the truth is not just tenuous, it's borderline hostile.
My daddy's Grand Old Party may not exist anymore, but the values he taught me are alive and well. And when I participate in the upcoming process -- and believe me, I will -- I'll be speaking out against the judgment, intolerance and condemnation my Republican daddy taught me had nothing to do with traditional American values.
So with the end of the primary season in sight, this former Goldwater Girl has just two words for what's left of the party I left behind 20 years ago while my kids finished their homework at the kitchen table: Game on!