(Not exactly) Paradise by the Dashboard Light

Posted by on Mar 18, 2012 in All, Personal, Poverty, Quotidian | 2 Comments

Car speedometer 1980s

Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night
I can see paradise by the dashboard light
– Meat Loaf – Paradise by the Dashboard Light

Those of you who read this blog have probably noticed that I try to keep it apolitical.  Those of you who know me personally probably know that I’m a Democrat.  If it were any ordinary presidential election year, I would be somewhat fired up.  I enjoy politics during election years the way a casual fan with a busy nonpolitical life enjoys watching the World Cup every few years.  But lately the assault on women’s fundamental health rights, through the passage of mandatory transvaginal ultrasound exams for women before terminating a pregnancy; the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and attempts to stop insurance from covering women’s birth control; plus the Rush Limbaugh “slut” and “whore” brouhaha and plenty of other awful examples in addition to the women’s issues, make this election year open season on too many things I believe in.

I recently hosted an event to raise money in support of Democratic members of Congress, and in introducing the event, which featured the talented duo of comedian Suzanne Whang and her partner, singer Eric Schwartz, and our friend, the wonderful comedian Wendy Hammers, I wish that I would have included the following story about how I became a Democrat:

In 1985, smack dab in the middle of the Reagan administration, I was a sophomore in high school.  I’d had a mad crush on a guy since middle school, and I WAS FINALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM.  He was a year older than me and had a drivers license.  I believed that he had finally picked up on the intense Jedi-mind-trick vibes I’d been sending him for two years and was taking me out because I was the cutest thing he’d ever seen.  I didn’t understand that we were probably now dating because he knew that I’d been lusting after him and thought I would be a sure thing.

On one of our first dates, we ended up in his station wagon out in the middle of nowhere after a movie.  I was thrilled.  We were making out – a dream come true!  We were playing the cat-and-mouse game of a guy trying to (literally) get into a younger girl’s pants.  I was flattered, but I probably wasn’t going to put out (at least that night).  Yet we kept on kissing.  And then politics came up.  He said something smart yet hipsterishly subversive about President Reagan.  I told him that I was a Republican.  <SCREECH>

“Wait a minute,” he said.  “Why are you a Republican?”

“Well…” I had to stall for time.

I had no idea why.  All that flashed through my head was my mother proudly telling me that her first vote cast was for Richard Nixon, my grandfather shouting at the television to Jimmy Carter that we can’t give in the the A-rabs, and (to a variety of Democrats over the years) that they were no Jack Kennedy.*

Finally I said, “It’s just the right way to be.  I just think they’re right.”

He laughed.  “Okay, let me get this straight.  Your mom is a single parent.  You guys don’t have much money.  And you’re a minority in a little town in Wisconsin.  And you’re a girl.  So, why are you a Republican?”

He was a smart guy, used to debating issues in smart-kid classes.  I was a smart kid, but not used to hearing anyone except for a handful of teachers talk about any genuine issues.

I don’t remember how our political exchange ended, but the little come-to-Jesus talk killed the romantic vibe that night.  And our entire “relationship” only lasted two weeks, if that.  But I give the guy credit for being my “first time” (although not in the way he would have liked) — the first person who encouraged me to think for myself about politics and ally myself with those who represented my true interests and beliefs.


* “You’re no Jack Kennedy!” was a quote from the 1988 Vice Presidential debates, said by Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle.  My grandfather definitely said this in later years, for example when shouting at the television to Michael Dukakis, but he also made similar remarks before then.


  1. Anna Jean Mayhew
    August 19, 2012

    Until age 32, I’d always been a Republican. My parents were, too, as were most of our relatives, and I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. I was now the mother of three, approaching my second divorce, and focused on finding a way to make a living. But my faith in Nixon faded (hadn’t voted for president his first time—’68—because I was totally apolitical). By ’72 he looked more and more like a pipsqueak, and I didn’t like his voice. I’d experienced one appealing thing about him: I sang in the choir at the Charlotte Coliseum for a Billy Graham Day (don’t ask); Tricky Dick & Pat were there, and I saw him take her hand as they descended the stage…awwww, sweet!

    Then, in November of ’72, I found myself in a voting booth faced with a slate of presidential candidates that nauseated me: Nixon, John Schmitz (American Independent Party), and George McGovern, who’d recently dismissed his running mate, Thomas Eagleton, because the man had undergone electro-shock therapy. I, having survived a severe postpartum depression and having had all kinds of therapy (though not electro-shock), could not find a soft spot in my heart for McGovern. George Wallace, an also-ran earlier in the year, was eliminated by an assassination attempt that left him partially paralyzed. I cast a protest vote for McGovern, given my choices, and knowing full well he didn’t have a chance of winning (like when I voted for Carter against Reagan…another story).

    I left the voting booth in tears. My then father-in-law was working the polls, and asked me what was wrong. I said something like, “I can’t explain,” feeling like I’d wasted my first presidential vote (on McGovern). I’m a white Southern mother, and what pushed me solidly over the edge into a liberal mindset was when a black friend and I took our kids to a “public” pool in the North Carolina county where my husband and I were living at the time. The manager said he’d close the place down before he let us in. Within a couple of months of that experience, I registered Democrat, and my husband’s family began to have misgivings about me (again, another story).

    So…forty years later, I’m a life-time Democrat, with no doubt that I made the right choice.

  2. Susan
    September 14, 2012

    Thanks for sharing that story, AJ. That gives me hope that sometimes adults can reevaluate their politics and learn to vote in a way that represents their beliefs and interests. The older I get, the more I feel that the personal really is political.


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