I love my country. I love it, not as a child loves, but as an adult loves. A child loves her mother no matter what and thinks her mother can do no wrong and has no flaws. An adult loves in a different way. An adult loves fully, but not blindly. An adult sees the flaws of the person they love, but loves them anyway.
Someone asked me the other day why my children are so interested in politics. That’s easy — because I raised them. The next logical question is — why am I so interested in politics. My parents were interested in politics, I guess. Plus I grew up in the turbulent sixties. And I got to watch the political transformation of my parents. There is an old, idiotic, axiom that goes — “If you’re a conservative in your twenties, you have no heart. If you’re a liberal in your forties, you have no brain.” The implication is that, as you really develop knowledge, experience, and maturity, and you come to understand the way the world works, your politics becomes more conservative. That’s not the way it worked for my Dad, Jack Brennan. In 1960, he voted for Nixon. In ’64, it was Goldwater all the way. We even went to a rally at the Astrodome, where I signed up to be a “Goldwater Girl.” Quick — who was his running mate? I win more bar bets with that one! Then came the VietNam war. And my staunchly conservative Daddy went from Nixon in 1968 to McGovern in 1972 quicker than you could say “Love It or Leave It.” He said something that has proven true in my lifetime. He said that we shouldn’t elect Presidents with daughters because they lead us into war. Johnson. Nixon. Dubya. Then in 1974, my Dad and I really began to talk politics more because of the Watergate hearings. Every day, I’d call him to update him during the hearings. I’ll never forget getting to call him when Butterfield testified about the taping system. During all the Watergate stuff, but before Agnew was forced to resign after pleading no contest to a criminal charge, Agnew urged the country to stop wallowing in Watergate. Dad loved that and, every day when we’d talk, he’d say, “OK, let’s wallow in Watergate.” The night before he died was the anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. I called Dad and asked him if he wanted to wallow in Watergate for a few minutes. He laughed and we talked about what we were doing when he resigned, and about his maudlin’ speech. It was the last laugh I shared with my Dad. Politics was one of his many gifts to me.
Good Golly, Miss Molly!
Back when Molly Ivins column was carried in the Houston Post, my Dad and I would read it and call each other about it. He loved “Miss Molly.” About ten years ago, the Post was bought by the Chronicle, who was too conservative for Molly Ivins and I thought I’d never get to read her again. That was before the magic of the internet. Now I get to read her all that time and I never tire of her. In a recent interview, she addressed all those people who say they’re “just not interested in politics.” I have to paraphrase, but this is what she said and I’ve made it a sort of mantra for when I hear that sentiment.
Politics isn’t something you can just not be interested in. It isn’t like a television program you can turn off or a piece of art you can just take off the wall. Politics is the warp and woof of your life. It affects everything from the tax on your clothing to how deeply your be buried to how fast you drive to how many schools exist for our children. It damn well affects everything you do, and if you care about yourself and the world around you, you’ll do what you can to affect it.
My very first involvement in politics was in the 1960 election when Nixon was running against Kennedy. We had a Nixon sign in our yard and one day, I decided to become involved. So I picked it up and walked around my neighborhood carrying it. It wasn’t exactly controversial since my whole neighborhood was filled with similar signs. Still, I felt it was important. I can’t remember if I knew a single thing about either candidate, except that my parents were for Nixon. At the age of 9, there really wasn’t anything else I needed to know. I remember that my Dad didn’t like Kennedy, but he really thought Johnson was flat-out dishonest. He related the story of the missing ballot box in Duvall County in Johnson’s first statewide election. So that’s how I started my political like — working for Nixon. In 1964, I was a Goldwater Girl and I still have my Goldwater sweatshirt from that election, and a pin. I was in Jackson Junior High and, after the election, I wrote a paper in my history class called, “Rather be Right than President.” For that, I had to do some research and it was during that research that I started scratching my head a little about this whole conservative philosophy.
One day in Texas history, we had an assignment to bring in a fact about Texas history. I forgot until just before I had to leave for school and I asked my mother to tell me an interesting fact. She told me that the first woman governor of Texas was Ma Ferguson and that she was elected after her husband, Governor Pa Ferguson, was kicked out for doing something illegal. My history teacher was more impressed with my interesting fact than anyone else’s. One of my all-time favorite quotes from any governor was from Ma Ferguson. She said, on the subject of bi-lingual education for students, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for the children of Texas.”
I worked for George Bush, the elder, in his first run for Congress. He lost. I remember going to piano the next day at UH and telling Mr. Brownlee how sad the loss was (I was using it as an excuse for why I wasn’t prepared) and he said that a Republican will just never be able to get elected in Texas. If only!
I really got involved in the campaign when Fred Hofheinz ran for mayor of Houston. He won.
In Presidential elections, my record was stunningly bad. I voted first, just after my 21st birthday (the minimum voting age back then) for McGovern. In 1976, I voted for Carter and he actually won. Or, maybe more accuarately, Ford lost. Voted for Carter in 1980 when Reagan won, but I thought, at least, Reagan has promised to balance the budget and reduce the deficit. Of course, he inflated the budget beyond recognition and nearly quadrupled the deficit before he and Bush were ousted. Voted for Mondale in 1984. First woman on a national ticket. Voted for Dukakis in 1988. His running mate was the most popular guy on either ticket, but he still lost miserably. Voted for Clinton in 1992. When he won, I literally went out into the street and danced. Voted for him again in 1996. Voted for Gore in 2000 and, even though he got the most votes, he didn’t get to be President. He lost by the slimmest of margins — 5 to 4. Kerry was the nominee in 2004 and, although he was not my choice among those running, I worked hard for him. I even took a week off work to go work for him in Arkansas, which was a state that they thought they might take. I wasn’t really worried about that election because, seriously, who would vote for Bush at this point? Turns out a lot more people than I thought. The last four years of the Bush presidency have been the worst. Civil rights, civil liberties, constitutional protections — these have all just been taken by the administration. Out of the 10 amendments, called the Bill of Rights, only one has not been violated by this administration. We haven’t had to quarter soldiers in our homes. Yet.
This last election was pretty amazing. A lot has been written about it, even though, as I write this, the election was just a week ago. Barack Obama will be a transcedent President. He has fought hard for, and won, arguably the worst job in the country right now. He will have to do so many things just to get us back to where we were, as a nation, before Bush took office. I’m a believer. I have never believed so deeply in a President before. Even when Clinton was elected, happy as I was, it wasn’t like this. When Clinton won, I went out and did a little happy dance in the street. When Obama won, I went out, by myself, and slowly danced. And not just because I’m 16 years older! This victory, having lost so much before, just felt sweeter. Sweet in a way that you feel it in your heart and in your mouth and in your toes. It has been a long time, I guess since the Republican “Contract With America,” since I have had any hope, in the political sense. Now, I do. And I am ready for the next adventure.
Last night, President Obama was re-elected and it wasn’t nearly as close as the pundits (the vast majority of them, at least) said it would be. So many of my friends were so worried about the outcome, but I never was. I kept telling people, during the last couple of weeks, that Obama would get more than 300 electoral college votes and the AP would call it for Obama by 11:00 at the latest. I was right, BUT I can’t take credit for my prophecy. All of that credit goes to Nate Silver, who writes the 538 Blog. I believe he added years to my life during the run-up to this election because I put my faith in him. And it was well placed there. In lots of ways, for the country and the Democratic Party, this was a sweeter victory than 2008. For me, there was no contest. This might have been my favorite election night ever.
For many, many years, I have gone out into the streets and actually danced on the nights when the Democrat won the Presidential election. I remember the happy, upbeat, bordering-on-wild dances of 1992 and 1996. Then in 2008, I danced by myself and it was a slow, dear, almost meditative dance. Last night, though, I was in Pacifica, staying with my daughter, Kendra, and my three-year-old grandtwins, Andrew and Jack. My children were raised in a politically interested/obsessed household. Kendra and I looked forward to spending election night watching the returns, especially because we were both confident about the Presidential outcome. I don’t think either of us expected the other Democratic/liberal outcomes (defeats of incumbent tea partiers, first openly gay U.S. Senator, same sex marriage and legalized marijuana referenda passing). We watched, got a little nervous now and then, and cheered as Nate Silver’s predictions became America’s reality. When it was finally over, it was still early in California. Jack and Andrew were still awake. Kendra encouraged me to continue my tradition of dancing in the street, but I suddenly knew what had to happen. I said, “Let’s take the boys out and dance in the street.” She gave me a mymomisactingcrazyagain look, but we put on their shoes and went out in the street and danced, chanting, “America won.”
We took the boys back inside and got them ready for bed. I sat in the rocker in their bedroom, snuggling them both in my lap in the dark. As they drifted off to sleep, I told them about this night and why it was such an amazing night, and why we elected such an inspiring, hard-working, wonderful President. They will have no memory of that night, but I will. Forever.
November 7, 2012
A letter to my granddaughter, Rye Brightside Vara, one month after the devastating 2016 presidential election.
December 9, 2016
You were born this year, which definitely makes it an historic year for our family. I thought it would be a very meaningful and historic year for our country, too. In a way, it is. But definitely not in the way we planned, not in a good way. This year, for the first time in our country’s history, a woman was nominated for President by a major party, the Democratic Party. Her name is Hillary Clinton. She is the most qualified person ever to run for President of the United States. She has fought for women and for children for her entire adult life. She has experience as an attorney and an advocate, a First Lady, a U.S. Senator, and a U.S. Secretary of State. She has been a public figure for 30 years. She has detailed positions on the important issues our country is facing. And her opponent, Donald Trump, was, and still is, a buffoon, a liar, a racist, a misogynist, a person who made fun of a reporter with a disability, a person who bragged about sexually assaulting women, a businessman who has filed bankruptcy multiple times, a person who said he would jail his political opponent, a person who claimed that he would have deportation squads to round up and deport all of the 11 million undocumented workers in our country, a person who said that he would subject Muslim immigrants to extreme vetting, as well as putting a moratorium on Muslims entering the country and requiring Muslims to register in our country, a person who promised he would build a wall along the 2000 miles of border we share with Mexico in order to keep people out and that he would get Mexico to pay for it, a person who threatened to curtail the right to choose to have an abortion, a businessman who, time and time again, did not honor the promises he made to others, and a person who told verifiable lies every single time he spoke at a campaign event. The idea that anyone would choose to vote for this inexperienced, idiotic man over an experienced, capable leader, was perplexing. But people did. There was an election a month ago and Donald Trump won. Well, technically, he got nearly three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, but with our electoral college system, he won enough states to be declared the next President. There are lots of complicated reasons why this happened, including that Russia intervened in our election through hacking, but a big part of it came down to the simple fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman. I hope that, by the time you’re old enough to read this, you will be shocked at that sentence. But it is reality right now. If Donald Trump had been a woman, he would never have gotten the nomination. If Hillary Clinton had been a man, she’d have easily won.
My mother, Doris Brennan, your great grandmother, was born in 1920, less than one hundred years ago. In 1920, the year she was born, women got suffrage, which is the right to vote. For the first 144 years of our country’s existence, only men could vote. It’s very difficult to believe now, but women did not have many rights at all back then. Women had to fight for the right to vote. Women were imprisoned for the right to vote. Women died for the right to vote. In 1920, they got that right. And that year, your great grandmother was born. There is a word we use for the “right to vote.” The word is suffrage. The word itself has several meanings, and one of them is “a short intercessory prayer.” I love that so much because voting is a kind of prayer, a declaration of hope.
Your great grandmother died in 2009 so she never met any of her great grandchildren. She spoiled every person she loved, and she loved every person she met. You’d have loved her, too. And she would have loved you with all her heart.
This year, Rye, you and I went into the voting booth together to vote for Hillary Clinton, the first woman President. At least, that’s what everybody thought. As it turned out, we were wrong. Still, I am so proud that I got to cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. Actually, you cast my vote for Hillary. I took you into the booth with me, and Popsicle stopped by to take a photo of us voting. After I picked everybody we were voting for, there is a big red button that says “cast ballot” and I put you close enough to kick it with your foot. So you are the one who got to cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.
Millions of people were devastated by the results of the election and I was one of them. It’s been more than a month since the election and I am even more devastated now. This devastation doesn’t destroy me, though. It motivates me. I am part of the resistance, part of the change that will come.
On the day after the election, Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech and, in that speech, which millions of people watched through tears, Hillary said, “To all the little girls watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” I want you to have those words and their power.
I love you,