Friday, March 07, 2008

Good Stories

A few weeks ago I wrote about aging, hinting at some of the dangers. I wouldn't recant any of that, but the older folks also have an advantage or two going for them as life goes from afternoon to twilight. Collecting and swapping stories is a huge one.
Naturally, it's better when you share more with the person hearing the story. As a lifelong Hawkeye guy, my stories of great Hawkeye moments of the past wouldn't do much for those whose expertise is Wolverines, Cyclones or (around here) Lumberjacks. The same is true for other aspects of life. Movie fans need other movie fans to get the most from quoting a decades-old movie line. I just can't fully appreciate stories of pheasant hunting, short wave radios, auto repair or alcoholic concoctions because I just don't have the background.
Should all Americans have a taste for a good political yarn? My tendency is to say they should, since we all live in the same politics-soaked atmosphere of a US election year. But sadly, it just isn't so, and it's sometimes a fine line that separates good stories from booorrriiinggg. You have to know the audience.
I'm a political guy. A junky? That's not a nice term, but if you can name all the winners AND losers going back 100 years in presidential elections, maybe you qualify. Gosh knows I wouldn't be writing this blog AT ALL without a more than normal political fixation.
It's a little like wine experts who go nuts for particular vintages and can't be kept from telling you WHY - even if you didn't ask. Ask me about the 1972 election. Thanks for asking. On the surface it seems like a pretty straight Republican blowout - until you look a little closer and notice that Nixon didn't seem to even care that Congress stayed Democratic. He didn't care much about or for Congress. But he cared about his own reelection so much that he was willing to overreach to gain unfair advantage. Hence, 1972 contains the seeds of what grew into the Watergate scandal, a fascinating (and looonng) story itself.
Do I hear other years? 1980? That's the year from which we get the term "October Surprise". The story still has plenty of unanswered questions. 1996? Bill Clinton cruises to victory, but underneath the surface are plans to bring down his entire administration. They almost succeed.
1964? Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats manage to put Barry Goldwater in a corner from which he cannot emerge, and his party is swamped by a tsunami of fearmongering. And so forth.
What do these things, I hear you grumbling, have to do with ME? Hey, look deep enough and you can tell how every election has its impact on ALL our lives. But there's something else going on. 2008, I believe, is shaping up as one of those years that the junkies just love to recall. The characters are compelling, the story line unpredictable, the stakes, as usual, huge.
Keep track of what happens with things like the Superdelegates on the Democratic side, and the handling of the botched primaries in Michigan and Florida, also a Democratic hornet's nest. See if McCain's need for money softens his scruples a bit. And how desperate will the TV ads get, and why. If your children grow up to care, they are going to love getting the answers from you - especially if you know how to tell them.


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