Nixon, Barbie and TV in 1972

When Richard Milhous Nixon was re-elected in 1972, I wasn’t paying attention. I was 7. I’d been spinning 45s for the entertainment of Barbie and Ken. They’d dance and dance and then press their perfect plastic bodies together and crawl under some blankets made of washcloths. What they did under the washcloths was none of my business.

My parents hollered at me from the living room.

“You should come and see this. It’s historic! You’ll remember this some day.”

Mom and Dad were always saying stuff like this. During a family road trip from Wisconsin to Oregon, they made frequent enthusiastic exclamations: “Have you ever seen such black dirt!” in North Dakota and “Look at those pretty green hills. I bet they grow potatoes there!” in Idaho. Punky brat that I was, I exuded boredom, often feigning sleep and refusing to look out the window when prompted.

And as a general rule, I didn’t watch anything “historic” on television.

“I’m busy. Maybe in a minute.”

Deidre Marie ….”

Dad had his band director voice on, the tone he took with a snotty high school drummers or trombone players. I wandered into the living room and slouched down on the couch. Ho-hum. Onscreen were smiling white guys in suits, frowning white guys in suits and a big, non-computer-generated map of the United States. With push pins.

Hooray for the whirling high-tech graphics of today.

Game shows were more fun than politics, even in the 1970s. Election 1972 featured no celebrities saying funny things. No trivia questions and no jackpot prizes. Yawn.

Newsmen spoke of a “landslide” vote, and I fantasized about white guys in suits buried under suffocating mountains of paper ballots, like the one my mom had used to vote for Nixon that morning.

Lately, I’ve been longing for the golden days of the Nixon administration. How could we go wrong with a leader who came up with the Environmental Protection Agency to care for our land, air and water? The Nixon administration pushed affirmative action and supported a negative income tax as a welfare reform, which seems to me more compassionate than the cold-hearted axing of benefits. Nixon’s war on drugs focused largely on treatment rather than surveillance and incarceration. Go figure.

Well-schooled in foreign policy, maybe Nixon (dubbed by Noam Chomsky the last “liberal” president) could get us out of the mess we’ve made in Iraq.

Alas, Nixon is dead. Time to accept this and move on.

In my second grade class, we’d learned about the political parties. These parties weren’t like birthday parties or classroom parties. The parties were groups of people who had the same kinds of ideas. The parties picked animals to represent their ideas. The Democrats picked the donkey, a dumb, stubborn animal. The Republicans picked an elephant because everyone knows that elephants have big brains.

Nixon’s win caused a paroxysm of joy for my teachers and parents and everyone (except possibly my 20-year-old hippie brother, who likely voted for McGovern, the commie). But I was still confused. At the risk of sounding interested, I asked my mom a question one morning before school.

Mom was standing in front of the kitchen sink, washing up the breakfast dishes. Light from the backyard streamed in the window over the sink.

“What is the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?”

Mom didn’t hesitate.

“A Democrat is someone who thinks the government should do everything for him,” she said. “A Republican is someone who thinks a person should be able to take care of himself.”

So there you have it, kids. Barbie is evil.