Election Season: How I Got HereDecember 31, 2007
Before I write about this year's race, here's an overview of my political background. I grew up in Michigan, lived briefly in Chicago after college, and have lived in Texas ever since. Politics wasn't a big part of my childhood until my teenage years. I remember Reagan being elected in 1980 and being happy about it. I was much more interested in 1984 and by that time was a huge fan of both Reagan and Alex P. Keaton. I also started subscribing to National Review, reading William F. Buckley books, and rushing home from church on Sundays to watch Firing Line. By the time I graduated high school, I called myself a conservative and a Republican, and would happily argue with anyone who wasn't (which included my oldest sister).
My problem, like a lot of Republicans, is that no one has ever matched Reagan or those dramatic eight years. Reagan was certainly flawed, but he was a towering figure of big ideas, conviction, trust and goodwill. During the 1988 primaries, I was an early supporter of Jack Kemp and was disappointed when George Bush won the nomination. He was an easy choice over Michael Dukakis, though.
Bush's four years seem terribly competent in retrospect, but I was mostly dissatisfied. I thought the Gulf War was an impressive achievement, but was very frustrated with Bush's reluctance to tackle anything substantial on the domestic front. There didn't seem to be any real reason to run again. Plus, he refused to replace Dan Quayle (the Bush family loyalty has proven more harmful than good).
To make my dissatisfaction clear, I joined 19% of my fellow Americans in voting for Ross Perot in 1992. A little hard to believe, and embarrassing, upon reflection. It's my version of experimenting with drugs in college. I wasn't willing to vote for a Democrat, but Perot was just credible enough for me to justify my protest vote.
The Republican field in 1996 was very disappointing, and that included Senator Dole, the eventual nominee. I admit to enjoying the constant political story that was the Clinton years, but I still voted for Dole in the end.
The 2000 Republican primary was the first time I signed up to support a candidate - Senator John McCain. I liked Governor Bush, but I had lived in Texas the entire time he was governor and wasn't aware of anything he had done that would make him a likely choice for president (other than win two statewide elections).
McCain was the first Republican candidate since Reagan that I believed in. I appreciated his willingness to work with Democrats and be civil with his opponents. I thought he would attract wide support like no other Republican and could unite the country. I volunteered for the campaign, watched every debate, reveled in his New Hampshire victory and was very disappointed when he left the race weeks later. The Bush campaign had more money, institutional support, and spin ("A Reformer with Results"), but I remain convinced that McCain would have been a better president.
I voted for Bush in 2000 and again in 2004. I wasn't particularly excited about those votes, but I knew I couldn't vote for Al Gore ("No controlling legal authority...") or John Kerry. For me, the only exciting political moment of 2004 was a speech at the Democratic Convention by a skinny kid with a funny name.
Next up, issues and candidates.