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The Good Old Days

The theme on one side of this endless presidential campaign is a reminiscence for the good old days. Okay, the Trumpists refer to it as the days when America was great, but it's the same thing.

The anti-Trumpists like to say that America is still great but I'm not here to argue partisan politics today. I'm interested in how remarkable it is that whether our causes lean left or right, our individual cultural identities of the moment are so often determined by choices we made 30, 40, 50 or more years ago.

To stick with the campaign for just a paragraph or so, I first became interested in politics when I was quite young. The Eisenhower/Stevenson campaign of 1952 was my first presidential contest. I was 11.

On election night, my parents let me stay up to listen to the returns come in on the radio. (If television had made it to Oregon yet that year, my parents had not bought one yet.)

I settled into my mother's big, comfy Queen Anne chair with the side wings that made me feel like I was in my own private space. I scrunched myself up in a blanket with pad and pencil at the ready to keep track of the votes as the numbers were announced (until I fell asleep).

Pre-election day polling was a nascent science in those days and I have no memory of hearing about any horse race in the 1952 campaign. Of course, I was a kid and probably didn't pay close-enough attention to the news to notice but there certainly was not the amount or detail of polling we get today.

That means there was little in the lead-up to election day to indicate who might be winning and I have often thought, as an adult, how much more interesting and informative the presidential elections would be if polling were not allowed - particularly because they make it too easy for the news media.

Think about it: I'm guessing that about 90 percent of all election-related news stories are numbers and percentages. Without them, we all - candidates, media and voters - would be “stuck” with conversation about actual policy positions. Imagine that.

Or am I just being nostalgic for the good old days? Is it possible, do you think, that as social, cultural and technological changes come along for societies not to adopt them? Even when the fact of actual advancement is questionable? Probably not.

What I suspect, however, is that even when old people go along with the changes, we sometimes miss the old ways of doing things, the ways of our youth.

Let me take this general idea into another area of culture.

On Saturday, I posted Peter Tibbles' tale of a short conversation he had with a young woman at the fish market who told him her name is Bianca. Here it is again:

PETER: Oh, like Bianca Jagger.

YOUNG WOMAN: (blank stare)

PETER: Mick Jagger's ex-wife.

YOUNG WOMAN: (blank stare)

PETER: Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones.

YOUNG WOMAN: (blank stare)

...pause...

YOUNG WOMAN: That'll be $10.90.

It's a funny and doleful reminder that we're old and the pop world has passed us by. After all, the Rolling Stones have been around for half a century and there is no reason Bianca should know who one of them was married to for a short while more than 40 years ago however familiar the story is to many of us.

But when I thought about it further, I realized the same conversation could be had in reverse if Peter Tibbles were the same name as the lead singer in Bianca's favorite band. Most of us older than 60 or 65 wouldn't know who she was talking about.

And so it seems to go for each generation. One of the most important things we do in our youth to ensure that we can live independently as adults is to separate and distinguish ourselves from our parents and grandparents.

One big way we do that is to adopt new, up-to-date, cultural artifacts – music, fashion, movies, slang terms, types of entertainment, social and political points of view – many of them deliberately chosen to shock older people.

In time, of course, parental shock wears off but what Bianca and her contemporaries don't know – and we did not know when we were doing the same things at her age – is that they are forming tastes, opinions, preferences and sensibilities they will carry with them unto the grave.

Thus, the good old days - whether we define them by poll-free election campaigns, rock bands of our youth or back when America was great – change from one generation to the next to the next.

What is interesting about that as we work our way through the decades of life is how often – not always but often - we see those choices we made at age 18, 20 or 25 as preferable or somehow superior to what the “kids” coming up behind us choose.

And so it is with each generation. Everyone gets a few years to control the zeitgeist and then the privilege moves on.

Comments

In 1944 my Mom was living in a small rural village in upstate NY. Dad was stationed at an army hospital in Wales. I have the letters (v-mail) that they wrote almost daily for more than two years. In one, Mom wrote that the 1944 presidential campaign (FDR vs Dewey) was the dirtiest that she could remember. Alas, she did not elaborate but went on to domestic matters.

I imagine looking at that election thru the lens of the 2016, it was innocent... but I don't know. Each election seems "the worst ever".

Wonderful reflection, Ronni. We all think we are the norm. But life moves on and we better relax and enjoy it! I needed that, having just been mulling this acute but ageist offering.

Born during WWII, I was too too old to be a Boomer. Thus I was never part of the 'norm' during my teenage years.

I was interested in politics, however, and worked in JFKs election campaign along with my mom. We watched the Democrat convention on TV and I met him and got his autograph on his book, The Strategy of Peace.

I couldn't vote in 1952, but I remember fondly all the "I Like Ike" signs, buttons, etc. He seemed a lot like my dad, whose WWII memorabilia (unform insignia, pins, etc.) I remember playing with. About all I recall about Stevenson is a photo of him showing a hole in the sole of his shoe.

I consider myself lucky to have grown up in the "Happy Days" '50s. I was reading just the other day what an unprecedented era of peace and growth it was for the country. Still, unlike one of our would-be leaders, I realize that we can only go forward, not back.

Oh, but for those rose-tinted, rear- view glasses of our minds.

The 50s and early 60s were, by nature and circumstance, the times of my youth, filled with hope, community security, simpler in the every day, with 'rules,' like wearing white after Memorial Day and not following Labor Day. Conformity ruled. All was so peachy-keen.

So long as I was white and middle-class, living in the USA and a handful, or less, of other similar countries.

Thankfully, the 60s and its influence to question, change, and grow independently from the learned opinions, judgements and even dreams has influenced my life more profoundly and lastingly.

I have no desire to yearn for those years and try to grasp understandings of today's young people, whose lifestyles are vastly different. Guess I'm trying to navigate in these new waters, while also floating my own boat.

I remember going to the Masonic Lodge in Kennewick, Washington with my parents to vote in the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon election. I was 5. On the way in, I saw our neighbors leaving and loudly asked who they voted for. I knew "we" were voting for Kennedy. My parents were embarrassed and I was told that it was a private decision and that you should never ask. I guess that was the exit poll of that time.

I was in the 6th grade during the Stevenson/Eisenhower election. We all voted in class...all I remember is I voted for Stevenson and the rest of the class voted for IKE!!! Hopefully the coming election goes better than that did! Thanks for the memories, Ronnie!

Wonderful memories I write about this constantly. Seeing present life through the lens of the 1950s gives us a different perspective. Unlike the people in the article Janinsanfran offered (above) I hope we can move beyond a narrow minded view, and opt for wisdom instead. After all, isn't that one of the greatest benefits of growing older?

I've been kinda chuckling a bit about the current election. It brings to mind the memory of my parents. Dad was a life long republican and my Mom a life long Democrat and in the good old days, political discussions were lively and informative. LOOKING back now, I think perhaps those were the days when each parties philosophy was clearer...no extreme right or left. Both my folks worked at the polls for their party during elections. The days of party affiliations equalling jobs; suppose still true today. I can only imagine my Dad's reaction to Trump. I think he would think, not my party anymore.

People talk to me sometimes about the "good old days". I remind them of segregation, polio, and childhood diseases that we no longer have. The good old days were as flawed as any other time. Also, with my health issues, in the good old days I would now be dead.

I do not long for the old days. I do remember watching the conventions on TV--especially the Democratic --and being quite interested. I remember JFK trying to get the nomination for VP but being bested by Estes Kefauver. Of course, he ran four yeares later and won the presidency.

My parents who were staunchly democratic were so torn about Kennedy. They came to believe that a Catholic would be more loyal to the Pope, than to his country. I was for Kennedy all the way, but of course was too young to vote.

The election of Barack Obama was the most thrilled I have ever been at the outcome of a presidential election.

I do think this election cycle has been the absolute worst I have experienced. I've already voted, and am relieved to have that done. I love voting by mail! Like everyone else, I am eagerly awaiting the end of this election cycle.

I expect HRC to win big. I hope the polls are correct. I do dread the inevitable Clinton kerfuffles and questionable actions but I suppose we will all survive.

I was born in the 50s & grew up in the 60s. I used to be so interested in politics. I have kind of lost interest. I did campaign work for Clinton, too, back in the 80s. This doesn't mean I don't vote. I always vote.

One of my volunteer assignments is working with people in their 20s and early 30s. It's interesting to hear them talk. There's a kind of shorthand, I'm sure there's a linguistic term for it, that they use with ease with each other and keeps the conversation flowing. I envy that.

Another thing I notice with younger people is how well traveled they are.

I miss newspapers. I subscribe to our local newspaper via Kindle as a cost savings measure. But, the paper has changed tremendously over the last 16 years. I prefer to read election coverage & not watch TV.

I think Presidential elections ought to be free with campaigning and debates done on C-Span.

Tis is not really related to your article, but do you have any idea why no modern vocalist can just sing the damn notes instead of caterwauling? (One of my pet peeves; I'm 89.

Fun thing going over on Twitter. All of the President Musuem/Libraries are posting political collections, campaign buttons, signs etc. There have been some really unique ones.

I have enjoyed FDR collectibles, they are entertaining. My favorite ones are from President Truman Museum, because he is from Missouri. 🌼

The first presidential election that is still memorable for me was that involving Adlai Stevenson and Dwight David Eisenhower. Following my mother's preference, I too was especially thrilled with Stevenson (even though he is mostly sneered at now --] --- especially when I saw that Eleanor Roosevelt, raging in height over virtually everyone else at the Democratic convention, was a fervid Stevenson supporter.. What a team they would have made! --

I'm with those of you who look on the past, especially the 1950s, with a jaundiced eye. They were, at least for me, decidedly NOT the good old days. I remember a professor I once had in graduate school who was inclined to ask his students questions that seemed way off the point, but interesting. So, once he asked us when we would most have liked to be alive.

People trying to please him talked about the Baroque or maybe the 18th century, the professor's two major areas of interest. Others said other things, obviously to please him. He said nothing - smiled - then said his choice would of course be THE PRESENT.

I was impressed. But also when I think of the current presidential campaign, I too just want it done. I have never felt so miserable before during a major political campaign.

I have learned to keep my mouth shut when it comes to discussing pop culture with young people. There is no way any sane human being can (or wants to) keep up with it.
My "pop" period has come and gone. May it rest in peace.

Being a few years older than you, Ronni, I recall when Dewey was elected president (according to a news report, at least.) I recall listening to one of the conventions (not sure Dem or Rep) with my great-grandparents, via radio, when it was Stevenson vs Eisenhower. My great-grandmother was with one part, great-grandpa with the other.

Ruth-Ellen, you had a smart prof, there. I think future generations will envy us. In our lives we have seen such a transformation. We were the ones who were there, then. We saw it happen. We are so privileged to have lived now. It is like being in England during the time of Shakespeare.

Those people in the far future will telescope it all down. To them, ENIAC will seem near-contemporaneous with self-driving cars, the Apollo mission with Google Earth, color network television with Netflix. They'll think the transition from women's lib to women being accepted as world leaders happened in the blink of an eye.

But we lived it.

And science...! When I compare how much more we know today about... well, practically everything! with how little was known when I was a girl, the difference never fails to astonish me, and make me grateful.

The big game changer has been the women's movement.

As a member of the "Silent Generation" my years to control the zeitgeist were few. After all, most of us were silent then. I've always identified more with the Baby Boomers than with the "The Greatest Generation" but I'm pretty much between the two in years (near-80). In retrospect it's hard to conceive of the '50s as the "good" old days or a time when America was "great". So much was wrong unless, as Simone pointed out, you were white and middle class--and, of course, male! The 50s were the ideal Trumpian Era and his goal is to take us all back there.

Yes, there was tremendous economic growth in the 50s, and it was a time of prosperity for a majority of Americans. As a child I enjoyed many of the material benefits of that era and I'm grateful for that. My father went to college on a scholarship, but if you were a white male back then, you didn't need an education beyond high school to land a secure, well-paid job with great benefits. Access to these jobs was often controlled by powerful unions and, although I support the concept of collective bargaining, unions excluded minorities and women until fairly recently. No surprise then that some white male high school grads began to view their group as--dare we say the word?--"entitled". I am SO ready for this election to be over! In TrumpWorld there are only winners and losers, and I fervently hope it's Herr Drumpf's turn to become the latter.

I believe you are right, Ronnie, that "the old days" defined our taste for years to come. Whenever I go to a concert (such as a tribute to Jerry Garcia) I am surrounded by a sea of gray heads, but I do see some young people, and if possible I quiz them on how they happen to be there. Usually an older relative turned them on to the music.
But "Make America Great Again" does not just refer to culture, although that's part of it. I believe Bill Clinton was right when he said that slogan is southern code for "make white men in power again." And so it resonates with a certain block of voters.

I agree with all those here who remember that window of time from early 1950's through mid-60's or so, as a time when life often seemed idyllic. Except for things like polio. . . unequal education, housing, job and educational opportunities for minorities and the poor . . . few opportunities to challenge the prevailing white male power structure, whether that challenge would be in the arena of religion, sexual orientation, politics, business, or control over one's own body. Just like in art, the further removed we are from the horizon, the more difficult it is to maintain perspective.


The 50s did provide openings, such as Elvis and the beginnings of RocknRoll. It was remarkably fortunate to be in my teens at that time and have sexuality brought from closed doors and into the light. I remember well the initial shock and outrage by some older people (was that the Ed Sullivan show?). And the excitement felt by us teens.

Looking at pictures and reading about the older Trumpsters reminded me of how threatened my mother would be by not having men in charge of her livelihood, telling her how to live regardless of whether they were dead or alive, from her father to her geriatric physician. She'd be one for turning the clock back, out of fear that she couldn't navigate or be strong enough on her own.

It can be extremely difficult to form one's own independence and power while attached to fears of separation mentally and emotionally from parents , especially when the culture and those in power want you to fall in line, comply, or fall down.

Cathy, that's so true. What's "good" about the good ol' days is that they're ... old. As in, settled, finished, and past. We forget that we were worried then--about polio, the Cuban missile crisis, our "permanent records" and whether we would pass geometry.

Somehow, we survived that. But so many people today yearning for the 50s & early 60s have forgotten the scary parts, when we weren't sure how things were going to turn out.

Also, they don't seem to understand that 50s "prosperity" was a kind of bubble. Of course, America was successful then--it was undamaged by invasions and bombs, unlike other industrial nations. Once they rebuilt, there was ALWAYS going to be a "new normal," and like it or not, this is it.

The best thing about the "good old days" is that they are gone.

The 50s and 60s were the heyday for white middle/upper class men, not so much for the rest of us.

Well it would've been much easier meeting a good woman back in the 50's and 60's compared to today since now that the times have changed and certainly the women have as well unfortunately.

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