When I was in high school I was assigned the task of writing a candidate endorsement that would appear in our school newspaper. In an effort to avoid favoritism in the election of 1980, “The Witness” at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, Massachusetts actually published three endorsements; one for President Jimmy Carter, one for Republican Ronald Reagan, and one for independent John Anderson. I was assigned to write the one for President Carter.
Teenagers are often influenced politically by their parents and at that time, my folks were what I call “Kennedy Republicans,” sort of like “Reagan Democrats.” Like many people in my Boston suburb of Norwood, they supported John Kennedy in 1960 (though they weren’t old enough to vote for him,) but drifted away from the Democrats during the malaise of the Carter years which overlapped Michael Dukakis’ first term as governor. I remember discussing in political science class how many Bay State voters were supporters of Senator Ted Kennedy, a Democrat, and yet voted for the Republican Reagan, twice, in 1980 and 1984. Reagan carried Massachusetts both of those years and during his time in White House, Kennedy was re-elected to the senate and Democrat John Kerry was elected in 1986.
My grandmother held firm for the Democrats, and she often referred to “her” presidents by their first names as if they were members of the family. “Franklin did wonderful things,” Nana would say, or “it was so sad when Jack was assassinated.” My aunt even had a dog named Lyndon Baines.
However, in my house, the bloom was off the Democratic rose by the end of the 1970s, when Massachusetts was living up to its nickname “Taxachusetts.” I remember my mother and father always complaining about President Carter’s policies, the high gas prices, the Iranian hostage crisis, widespread unemployment, record high mortgage rates, even the boycott of the Olympics. I vividly recall one morning as I was eating breakfast before school, the images on television in the kitchen of a disastrous failed attempt to rescue the hostages. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed.
Back to my endorsement of President Carter. Considering my environment and the times, it was tepid…at best. Here is an excerpt:
“Jimmy Carter is not the ideal candidate for the presidency, but he is the best being offered to the American electorate this year. It is true that his administration has been a disastrous disappointment. However, he is our president, our leader. He is the only candidate who can claim this qualification……”
Hey, what do you want? I was only 16.
Carter was also not very popular among the XBHS student body, most of whom wanted change. A poll published in the same edition of “The Witness” as my Carter endorsement , showed Reagan with 36%, Anderson with 28%, undecided with 19% and Carter with 15%.
I wasn’t old enough to vote in 1980, yet I studied the election with tremendous fascination. The subject of one of my papers that fall was Ted Kennedy’s run against Carter for the Democratic nomination.
By the way, if you are wondering what’s up with the headline “Cult Rocks Xaverian,” that refers to Blue Oyster Cult, whose performance in our school gym bumped the Election of ’80 off the front page. Ah..to be 16 again.
Note: this is a modified version of a story I wrote in 2010.