As the risk of sounding like an old geezer, I must say life is so different from what it was when I was a little kid.   America, as a country and politically, is so different than it was as well.  Since then, we all have sort of “politically matured” – mostly out of necessity after the country was fighting an unpopular war in Southeastern Asia and then the nearly concurrent black smudge of the Watergate burglaries.  For me, it was an unfortunate stripping away of a naïveté that comes with youth and that comes from parents with impeccable manners instilling in our family the respect for the Office of the US President (no matter who held the office).   I don’t seem to remember there being such “knee jerk reactions” among voters whenever partisan politics was a factor in any election -- not as we now see, at least.  People appeared to be fairly respectful of others’ political beliefs in a free society – “live and let live” was the order of the day.

My father tried to raise us without partisan leanings as much as he could – he worked for the State Department of Education in Illinois and then a local County School Board in Florida.  But he was convinced it was best to stay as neutral as possible; as far back as I can remember, he has been registered as an “Independent”.  My mother is from the Deep South and from a fairly political family of southern Democrats now better known as “Dixie-crats”; their beliefs ran the whole gamut of the political spectrum.  Where she grew up in South Carolina and where we lived in southwest Florida, there was usually only one party reflected for local races on the ballot. After I turned 18, if I wanted to vote in the primary elections for anything like Sheriff or School Board Superintendent (i.e., better known as “Dad’s boss” in our house), I was told to register to reflect that I was a true descendant of Dixie-crats!

Growing up, we always heard the mantra that it was important to “vote for the candidate and not the party!”  So we were taught to study the issues and examine what the candidates represented.  This invariably led to months’ long sessions of parental soul-searching  and often my parents came up with different conclusions about who to support in elections.  But, my mother and father respected each other’s background, education, and judgment and this was never a point of contention in our home.  Sometimes the only way we knew our parents had any differences of opinion was when they looked at each other on election day at the dinner table, and one would ask, “Who did you vote for?”.  If there were any differences, they laughed and said, “Well, we canceled out each other’s vote!”  Not that we were like Beaver Cleaver’s family on 1950’s television – far from it – but the environment of respect for others’ political views reigned supreme in our home.

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One summer when my father was working for the Illinois State Department of Education, there was supposed to be a rally for state employees and their families on the Illinois state capitol steps for Republican Richard Nixon during one of his runs for president.  My father suggested that my mother go and listen to Nixon speak about his platform and to participate in a “question and answer” session afterwards.   So the day of the rally, my mother dressed us “up to the nines” in coordinated clothing so that we looked like we were an all-American family.  Then we made the short trip from our house to the Illinois capitol building, where standing all alone on the side steps (without any Secret Service personnel in sight), bigger than life, was Richard Nixon.  The sad thing is, Mr. Nixon said we were the first people to show up.  Even sadder, later my father learned we were the only ones who even came for his supposedly 2-hour speech with Q&A.  In Nixon’s defense, it was sprinkling just a little bit that day and my mother rationalized that this was the reason why we were the only ones there.



What the most astounding part of the day’s adventures was how much time Nixon spent talking to my mother and how he was interested in her background living in her Southern Democratic semi-political family.  He perceived that she was well-educated and worked as a high school teacher (which was pretty rare then to have a working mother, but now as always, she comes off as the quintessential professional woman).  My brother and I stood respectfully by, trying to listen, but most of the issues they discussed went over our heads.  But we stood as still and as quietly as possible because we were awed that  we could be standing in the presence our future president.  Being the more shy, younger sibling, I stood out of his arms reach, but when Nixon and my mother stopped talking, he reached over and gently ruffled my brother’s hair, jovially remarking about what a fine young man my brother was growing up to be.  I think he picked up on my apprehension, and then he offered me a campaign button.  I treasured that button years afterward because it was from a potentially future president!  That’s how much respect that we were reared to give the Office of US  President and any candidates running for the office.

Meeting a “real politician” was a big deal for me back then and it made a huge impression, especially in terms of what our duties were as Americans to be informed on the political scene.  Nixon wasn’t the only US president I was ever around – when I was in high school, a lot of politicians flew into Southwest Florida for a very private vacation on some of our exclusive outer islands.  My high school band director was fairly well connected (because he used to be a trombonist for Lawrence Welk – boy, that really dates me!) and oftentimes our band played for the arrival of Washington officials.  The only president we played “Hail to the Chief” for was Gerald Ford.   President Ford  smiled and waived at the band, and then thanked our drum major and band director for the honor our high school band paid him.  Then, as an adult, I was at a rally with George H.W. Bush when he was vice president, but I was very far away from him compared to where I had been from Nixon or Ford.   No matter who these politicians were, whatever their political philosophies, whatever their personal histories were, I always felt that they were due respect because of the office.

The Watergate burglary scandal years were very tumultuous and ambivalent times for our family – we really didn’t know what to believe about what had occurred, so my father cautioned us saying, “Give Mr. Nixon the benefit of the doubt – we don’t know everything that really happened.  He’s innocent until proven guilty.  So let’s just see how this scenario plays out before we rush to judgment.”  The subsequent days that Vice President Spiro Agnew and then President Nixon resigned were dark, dreary events for us, but we still accorded these gentlemen the respect their former offices deserved. 

Since then, I’ve really tried hard not to say bad things about any US President (for one thing, you never know who’s listening to you who can get really ticked off at you and start a heated argument!) and there have been some presidents who I haven’t exactly agreed with politically.  But there is always something redeeming about every one of the past presidents in my lifetime.  If you look for the good and praise it, it feels a lot better deep down inside than to spew negativity senselessly when there is nothing that can be done to change the outcomes after the elections are over. 

One of the more touching stories about our outgoing president, Barack Obama, was taught to me by potential stroke patients in the Emergency Room whom I needed to admit for observation.   I can’t say that I have my own story because I’ve sort of ignored politics (except to formulate my own decisions for voting in elections) after I saw a lot of corruption and even directly observed cheating in one party.  I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t have the stomach or blood pressure to get involved too deeply in politics!  As a physician, I’ve worked in a lot of areas that are considered “medically underserved”, which usually means treating America’s poor of every minority group imaginable.  In this capacity,you can meet a lot of remarkable people who forever change the way you view the world.

One of the questions doctors usually ask during neurological exams for stroke includes asking the patient a few current events questions to see how aware they are of the world around them and to also test their memory and recall abilities.  A sweet family brought to the ER their matriarchal grandma on suspicion of having had a stroke (and thank goodness, she hadn’t had one).  Going through the list of diagnostic questions to ask, I finally queried, “Who is the current president of the United States?”

This little grandma seemed a bit flustered when she couldn’t remember stuff immediately, but a lot of  time it just took a little while for her memory  to kick in.  I had seen her stumble through a couple of answers which she eventually got right, so I was trying to be patient and give her the benefit of the doubt.  This adorable lady finally declared, “Oh, you know!!  Michelle’s husband -- his initials are B.O.!”

Her family was absolutely mortified that the lady couldn’t remember the name of the president.  They emphatically stated, “Oh, she loves the president SO MUCH!!  We can’t believe she can’t remember his name!  She talks about how much she admires him all the time!”

A big grin spread across my face as I answered, much to the family’s relief, “That’s okay – she’s close enough!  Remembering Michelle’s name was more than I expected!”  In a minute, the woman could tell me his full name was Barack Hussein Obama, and she lit up like a power plant at her accomplishment. 

This incident alone would not have been notable, but consistently this same deep, respectful, grateful affection was displayed in these families comprising the medically underserved populations.  When potential stroke candidates could not remember the president’s name, their families all had the pretty much the same response.  “Oh, he’s going to be so mad at himself for not remembering the president’s name!”  Or,  “He LOVES the president and really looks up to him!”  Or,  “We’re the president’s biggest supporters!”  Or, “She voted for him twice, and campaigned for him the first election!”  Or,  “She really likes the president!”  None of the other responses were as funny as “Michelle’s husband” or “his initials are B.O.” though!

No matter what anyone thinks about outgoing President Obama, we can’t deny that the man inspired in many  Americans a legacy of love and compassion which was expressed in the faces of these economically-challenged patients and their families.  Let us try to remember and emphasize the good that was accomplished as we endeavor to try to give any president the respect due their office.  May Americans give incoming President Trump the respect that he so richly deserves as well.


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