I got interested in presidential politics in 1948. My mother took me downtown and pointed to a man running for the Republican nomination. “Look, Joey,” “she said, “there’s the next president of the United States.” She was pointing at Harold Stassen, who was making the first of what turned out to be countless unsuccessful campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination.
After Thomas E. Dewey turned back Stassen’s challenge and won the nomination, my friend Mike told me Truman would win and I told him that was nuts. Thus began a succession of wrong political predictions on my part, with one exception.
Truman relieved Douglas MacArthur of command in Korea, and when he came home and spoke to Congress in 1951, we all heard about the song West Point cadets sang at the beginning of the twentieth century. “Old Soldiers Never Die (they just fade away).”
In 1952, Claremonters wore pins that said “I like Ike,” and that was certainly true in our household. My parents regarded Dwight Eisenhower as a hero, which he was, and if a few of their friends favored Adlai Stevenson, it wasn’t discussed.
Ike kept his promise to “bring our boys home from Korea,” and at the end of his first term he didn’t fade away but beat Adlai again. In January of 1957 I attended my first inauguration, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue as a member of the Stevens High School Band. The President and Vice-President Nixon waved as we walked past the reviewing stand.
The 1960s started optimistically, with the election of John F. Kennedy, ended with the election of Richard Nixon, and had the ill-fated presidency of Lyndon Johnson in between. Nixon won re-election in 1972, but that didn’t work out, and Gerald Ford took over for a while.
One day, in 1975 I think, a friend invited me to his house for Sunday breakfast to meet “our next president.” I told him I had heard of the man, a Georgia peanut farmer, but I had to mow my lawn that day.
During the Reagan years, now fondly remembered by many Americans, I stayed on the sidelines, but that changed in the late 1980s. My law partner, Mike Dukakis, was running, the first and only time in my life that a friend of mine was going to become “the next President of the United States.” I threw myself into that effort, attended the convention in Atlanta, and prepared to attend my second inauguration. Instead I watched Chief Justice Rehnquist swear in George H.W. Bush on television.
Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 – five presidential terms, and then came 2007. I predicted that Barack Obama would be the next president, and I finally guessed right. I endured that frigid cold day on the Washington mall eight years ago, attending my second inauguration and watching as he took the oath of office. Like Lincoln, he quoted Scripture, “The time has come to set aside childish things.” He reminded us that all Americans “have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world.”
Now we have a new President, Donald J. Trump. I listened to his inaugural speech, wondering if he might turn the page and recall Lincoln’s words, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” I should have known better.
Some members of Congress skipped the inauguration, but I think they should have shown up, as did the Carters, the Clintons, and the Bush 43s. Like him or not, he’s the President, and it’s still our country.