Petty Politics

Mike McGough
November 2020

They were all ages, their educations were unique and difference, their experiences wide and varied.  They represented a broad range of professions and careers.  Their interests were numerous and often very deep.  By personality they were what one would expect to find in any cross-section of any typical population.   What bound them together were family ties or the attachments of friendship, that for some of them were more than 70 years in the making.  

Like the rest of the nation on this particular Saturday, they were living through some tough times.  There were health, gender, racial, and a host of other social issues that made a lingering economic collapse all the more troublesome.  The nation was politically polarized.   The competing camps played to a fear of George Washington’s.  In his farewell address, delivered on September 17, 1796, Washington statedthat political parties, “. . . are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government. . .”

The political views and opinions within this gathering of family and friends were about as varied as everything else about them. The meal they were enjoying was wonderful.  Everyone had brought something to the table including their opinions and thoughts.  Talk was, as always, ample and lively.  Politics had long been a favored topic for this group, and although spirited at times, politics never came between family and friends.  That was until current social, economic, and political forces coupled with a presidential election the next month, combined to become a perfect storm of petty politics.

As one of the older members of the group, he was bright, witty, and talkative.  He was one of the family patriarchs and oldest friends in the group.  He too had political opinions he liked to share.  However, he had noticed over the past several months, that what had once been friendly give-and-take around his table, was becoming increasingly spirited, noticeably unpleasant, potentially hurtful, and headed rapidly to becoming downright hostile.  It was becoming too personal in nature, and its potential for a negative impact was mounting.  

On this particular Saturday, he left it go just long enough so everyone would realize where it was headed.  The central topic was whether incumbents or challengers offer the best hope in presidential elections.  Had he waited another five minutes the proverbial manure would may well have hit the fan.

“Okay, that’s enough. Fun’s fun and politics is politics, but this discussion is headed in a not-so-fun direction, so let’s all take a breath, take a bite of food, and calm down!”

After observing the silence he had suggested, he continued.  “Now each of you’ve given some really good reasons why sticking with our current Republican incumbent or voting in the Democrat challenger is what’s best for the nation.  This topic has been part of our Saturday dinners for some time. I can’t say I’ve seen any shift in the sentiments of the group, and that’s neither good nor bad. That’s just the nature of political thought and opinion.”  

Everyone knew that they had just been warned to tone it down a bit, so they did.  Sensing a calm, he decided to launch into one of his armchair historical lessons.  

“The election of 1864 offered voters a choice between an incumbent and challengers.  Also, not unlike today, the country was going through some really tough times.  You’ve maybe heard of it—the Civil War.  The country was politically divided, families were split and friendships were crushed by political animus. That’s nothing we need to do here today.  The same thing happened in 1932, when a Republican incumbent was challenged by a Democrat.”

With peace restored the meal continued and the discussion was far more genial.  As they were finishing up, he gave them a little more to think about.  

“Folks, politics has got to be about more than, well you know, politics.  It’s got to be about the individuals running for office and what’s best for a nation.  Being an incumbent or a challenger isn’t enough and neither is being associated with a particular political party.  If challengers were always best, Lincoln, a Republican, would have been voted out in 1864. If incumbents were always the best choice, Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat challenger, would have lost in 1932.  And just for the record, regardless of the poll or survey taken, both men routinely rank in the top five of all US Presidents.”

As a parting thought he said, “Avoid petty politics and bickering; vote for the person who best represents how you want to live your life.  Then and only then your vote has meaning!”