Tuesday, August 9, 2016

All Politics is Personal

August 9 is the anniversary of two important events. The first was the second use of nuclear weapons. Nagasaki. Coming three days after the first use.

My family was involved in the Manhattan Project. Many scientists and engineers were. But, after use of the bomb, many were plagued with a sense of responsibility. I discussed this more in my posts about President Obama's visit to Hiroshima. 

The second anniversary is that of the resignation of a President. Watergate. Adding "gate" to various other words has since come to suggest scandal. But, let's look back. The first election I voted in was 1972. The year of Watergate.

The Watergate scandal began when the DNC headquarters was broken into on June 17, 1972 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal). It was in an office complex named Watergate, hence the name of the scandal. Investigation of the perpetrators lead to the Committee for the Reelection of the President, the aptly named CREEP. The ensuing scandal led to the resignation of the President Richard Nixon late on August 8, 1974, as the Watergate investigation led to Nixon's close aides. Gerald Ford then became President.But, first, Nixon tried to block the investigation by asking that the Special Investigator be fired. The Attorney General and a Deputy Attorney General both resigned, rather than comply, in what was called the Saturday Night Massacre on October 20, 1973. The Solicitor General then fired the Special Investigator at Nixon's bidding. Yet, Nixon could not stop the investigation.

I did not know of the resignation until August 9.  At the time, I was studying in Poland. A popular joke there, at the time, was that of an American, a Frenchman, and a Russian drinking together. The Frenchman commented that the best evening of his life was the evening spent with Brigitte Bardot (a popular French actress of the time). The American then said that the best evening of his life was an evening spent with the President. At this, all the Americans started laughing. And the Poles told us we hadn't heard the punchline. They then told us that the Russian then said that the best evening of his life was when two men came to his door and asked, "Are you Ivan Ivanovich?" He told his friends that he had said, "No." And then, he said, they left. That was the punchline. And, this joke, like so many others, expressed the truth that the Poles knew.

Years later, I interviewed a young woman, who was growing up in Washington at the time of Watergate. It was very interesting to hear the story told from the perspective of someone who had witnessed some of the events as a child. And, how those events impacted her and influenced her politics and choice of career.

The differences in reaction to the joke exposes the difference between the Americans who were, at the time, embarrassed by the Nixon and the events that led to his resignation. The Poles, on the other hand, had experienced the nighttime visits, and the visitors who didn't leave, but rather escorted the occupant out. My grandfather's second wife was given 15 minutes to pack for her family. Only two of them survived their two years in Siberia. None ever returned to their home in the Kresy, but rather had to wander for a while before finally making a home in the United States.

Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." But, I would suggest that it is personal. Each of us begins with the attitudes shared by our families. They have been shaped by their experiences. And, then, our personal experiences modify our political beliefs further.

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