I’d be in the living room watching Saturday morning cartoons when I’d hear my Mom and Dad in the kitchen talking about politics. My Mom, very private about her selection process, would infuriate my Dad because she wouldn’t tell him who she planned on voting for. Sometimes those discussions would escalate when my Uncle Jim and sometimes my Uncle Donny would visit and inevitably the “what’s best for the country” discussion would ensue. It was in my mid-teens when I learned my mother was a registered Republican and my father was a registered Democrat. And I admit, I had no idea what either of those things meant. Even with 12 years of education, I felt incredibly unprepared to eventually walk into a polling place and perform what I was taught as an integral part of my duty as a citizen of the United States of America. This was serious business! I didn’t watch much of the news unless my parents were watching and this was long before the advent of the internet so my sources were pretty much limited to what my family said and what I read in the newspapers. But then again, I didn’t read many of those either. That is of course until I graduated high school and started college.

Even though I was born in 1965 I was a child of the 70’s. I grew up hearing the adults in my life talking about the Kent State massacre, the killing of nine hostages and one police officer at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the Vietnam war and the fall of Saigon, Jimmy Carter, the death of Elvis, the first test tube baby, Peace in the Middle East between Egypt and Israel, the first non-Italian Pope in over 400 years Pope John Paul II, the Jonestown Massacre, Three Mile Island, Ted Bundy and the Iran Hostage Crisis.  According to all the elders in my life, these were scary times. In 1979 I walked into the halls of Central Columbia High School as a freshman. From there, in 1983, I went to college and my impressionable 80’s education began. Between 1980 and 1984 I read, saw and heard about the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the assassination of John Lennon, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the identification of the AIDS virus, the assassination of Indira Ghandi and the Soviet Union boycotting the 1984 Olympics. The difference in these informative years that I was no longer relying on biased information from the adults in my life I was getting it on my own. Plus, it was not longer the older folks who would make the decisions that would affect me, it would be me. I remember being genuinely scared I’d make the wrong choice when I voted. There were positive stories that happened between the years 1965 and 1984 too, but even then, fear ruled when it came to the news media. And I had 18 years of it imbedded in my psyche. What do I do when I vote?

Since my 18th birthday wasn’t until November 29th, 1983 I didn’t have my first chance to vote until 1984.  November 6, 1984 I nervously walked into the polling area by myself and was asked, “Are you a registered Republican or a Democrat?” I remember thinking that was an awfully personal question to ask someone. But I quietly replied, “republican”, and was directed toward a polling station. Republican, what did that even mean? I honestly don’t know why I registered Republican when I was young. I believe it had something to do with the fact that that was what my Mom was. Not that I didn’t love my Dad and respect his choice to be a registered Democrat, but I think early on the mantra, “We must keep the Federal Government out of lives” rang true to me. It was the message that was fed to me by my aunts, uncles and many of the adults who helped shape my belief system. So, when I walked into the polling station on that cold November day I pulled the lever for Ronald Reagan. Truth be told, I could have voted for Walter Mondale too because I knew that was who Dad was voting for but in the end, my conditioning won the battle of my decision.

For the next four years I watched intently at what Ronald Reagan did for our country. I mean here was a guy who was a successful Hollywood actor, Governor and now President who lived through an assassination attempt in 1981! But despite the fact that his awe-inspiring efforts helped dismantle traditional communism, stop the cold war and tear down the Berlin Wall, terrible events continued to occur across the nation and the world. In the late 80’s there was Chernobyl, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the University of Montreal Massacre, the Iran-Contra Scandal, the largest stock market crash in history occurred on “Black Monday, Pan Am flight 103 explodes over Lockerie, Scotland brought down by suspected Lybian terrorists and thousands of protestors were killed on Tienanmen Square in Beijing. Did the decisions President Reagan make help prevent any of those things from happening? Or for that matter, did the decisions of presidents George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barak Obama prevent any of the tragic events that occurred in the 90’s, 00’s or 10’s?

Perhaps that’s a stretch. My intent isn’t to begin a debate over presidential decisions that may or may not have had an effect on global or national tragedies and victories, but rather to revisit our past as a way of understanding the decisions we make in the present. I’m not sure exactly when I discovered I had a mind of my own, but when it happened it was enlightening. I suddenly realized that not everything people said about a candidate was true. I realized that issues that were important to me might not necessarily be important to others. And I also came to the realization that regardless of who is President, bad things happen.

I think back often of those political conversations that occurred when I was young, except now when I do I’m able to pull from them an important lesson. When we stop to take the emotion out of the equation many things become clearer. I haven’t thrown away my childhood imprinting but rather used it to mold my own psyche and decision making process. Emotionally my Mom wasn’t able to see things that my Dad thought were vital in the role of government. In the same way my Dad, being too emotional to be rational, never really listened to issues that were important to my Mom. When in truth, if they would have truly listened to each other, they would see they both wanted similar things but had different ways of achieving them. That’s a lesson I learned then and do my best to pass along now.

I’m not even sure why I wrote this entry today. I think it has so much to do with the nastiness I see and hear every day. Heck, I’ve heard it all my life it just that now with the advent of the internet, Facebook and cable news outlets, I’m confronted with it so much more. Sometimes when I read what people write I think, “Wow! That was just an awful thing to say!” Or I say outloud, “Why would they say something like that?” You know the comments I’m referring to. The lashing out that occurs when someone disagrees with a stance another makes on a particular candidate. I reminds me of sitting in a bar watching a football game and seeing two people get into a fist fight over an errant call, a botched play or even over a particular player one of the people detest.  But the presidential primaries aren’t a sporting event. They are not a reality based television show where unabashedly argue on who should get voted out and who should stay in. They are instead about aligning ourselves with the individual who best represents the issues that are important to us. They are about choosing a qualified individual who will represent the Executive Branch of the Federal Government of the United States of America.

My Mom had some good points to make when it came to economics and the role the Federal Government has to play. My Dad had some good points about the social side of things. I’ve taken what they believed, and with my own established belief system, created my own set of credentials and qualifications for the office of President. For me, I take the emotion out of the equation and try my best to be pragmatic when it comes to my choice. I’m now a registered Democrat but I’ve never voted a straight party ticket. I didn’t have the opportunity to caucus for the Republicans in my home state of Kentucky but if I could have I would have been involved. I will however be voting in the Democratic primaries in May and yes I have chosen who I am voting for. And whoever the eventual nominees are, I will make my choice based not on emotions, but rather qualifications that match my set of mandatory credentials.

Unfortunately tragic events happen every year in our nation and world. It is difficult not to get emotional about things. And yes it’s so hard to not get wrapped up in the negative banter that gets thrown at us every day by our friends, family and the media. But rather than getting offended that someone doesn’t believe like we do, or attacking others because they say things that offend us, let’s not get offended at all. It’s not important that everyone agrees with us. I advocate an open forum of positive qualifications for every candidate. And if someone differs from me, that’s okay. Every, and yes I mean every candidate has positive attributes. Since November I’ve listened to all of them and slowly narrowed down my choices. I don’t have to tear down the others to make my choices seem better. Instead, like my mother, what’s important to me is pretty personal. Please, please, please let us all make a concerted effort to raise our level of decorum and not be so defensive when someone chooses a different path. People have had dissenting opinions for centuries. And that in part, is what makes America the greatest country in the world.