It’s fascinating to trace the mind webs that our thoughts are constantly weaving. Yesterday my search for the number of words in the English language led me to the Global Language Monitor website. Today that site was still up on my computer and out of curiosity I clicked on OK. That led me to a writing about the use of the word OK. It seems it’s the most widely recognized English word in the world. It’s been around for 175 years since the presidential election of 1840.
President Martin Van Buren was born in Old Kinderhook, New York and was known as Old Kinderhook. During his campaign for reelection in 1840, his campaign slogan was “Old Kinderhook is O.K.”. Since then the use of the word skyrocketed and a Google search today might find 1,200,000,000 references to the word. And that’s OK, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. Today I write about politics.
People who know me know that this is most unusual. I rarely talk about politics. Usually when the topic comes up, I change the subject, close my ears or go away. For many years now I have considered myself apolitical. That’s not always been the case.
In 1968 I actively supported the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy. I even attended a caucus that year. I was somewhat overwhelmed by the activities of the caucus, but that’s not really what started my movement away from the political scene. At that time, the anti-Vietnam War efforts were going on hot and heavy, and that’s probably why I supported the McCarthy cause. He was a lone intelligent anti-war voice in the debate. The support he was able to gather was part of the reason Johnson decided not to run again for president.
But then the convention selected fellow Minnesotan Humphrey as the Democratic candidate and Humphrey then lost to Nixon. So much for shaking up the ideals of democracy as I was envisioning them at the time. I still voted, even for school boards, still thought there was some “duty” in doing so, but in time I voted in less and less. The voice of the majority who did vote carried the day, and as I watched the political scene, I started seeing that it really made little difference who was elected.
Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, all of these labels became for me just that, labels. The words that came out of the mouths of candidates were pretty much the same and were tailored to the audience that was receiving them. That is the art of good speech writing. If you’re going to address a group of people and hold their attention, and in fact, get them to do something you want, then you better say the right words.
As an English major and teacher of language skills, I knew very well how successful writers and linguists were able to form the words of our language to accomplish almost anything. Our whole advertising arena is based on this notion. Say the right words and you can get anyone to buy anything. And so it goes for politicians.
I guess you could say that I have joined the Skeptic political party. Don’t get me wrong. I think we have a marvelous political system in this country. The founding fathers knew what they were doing when they set up the system of checks and balances that we have. It is difficult for any single politician to screw things up too much. There is always someone else waiting and watching to take over if need be.
I have gained the perspective of years that has made my view (for me) more acceptable. I have also become more tolerant, which I think is a good thing. For me, it doesn’t really matter who is President. The political party they belong to, the color of their skin, their sex, may all be interesting features, but when they actually get into office and attempt to do something, they’ll either be supported or not supported and in a few years, they’ll be gone and someone else will be trying to do something else. And for most of us, it won’t make a great deal of difference.
Of course, there will be individuals who might lose a job, be forced to move, be put into military service, or anyone of a hundred other momentary dilemmas, but in the BIG picture, over time, not much that happens on the political scene has a great deal of positive or negative impact. Granted, a President could declare War, and with the support of congress, could actually start shooting at someone else. Lives would be lost on both sides and the world would be in turmoil for a period of time. But in time, it would be over, and in a little more time, things would return to another level of “normal” and life would go on.
I mean, after all, aren’t we the survivors or the children of survivors of countless wars, depressions, political decrees, and legislative proclamations that for all time make all of the preceding obsolete. Until it happens again, of course. No, I think politics has become in this age another organized venture just like education, medicine, religion, athletics. A young person today might say, “I think I’ll be a politician” just as he might say, “I think I’ll play professional football.”. And that’s OK.
Oh, by the way, Martin Van Buren lost his reelection bid. Perhaps the people wanted a President who was not just OK, but one who was wonderful. OK?
****ADDENDUM: The preceding was written prior to the appearance of Donald Trump on the political scene. His entry from the world of very financially successful businessmen should not change at all what I think of politics. I mean, we’ve had successful actors, lawyers, soldiers, and occasional scholars. So a financially successful businessman shouldn’t be different. However, the words out of his mouth have obviously not be written by any English major worth his or her salt. And while his election would certainly lead to four years of constant embarrassment for our country, I still have no doubt that we would survive.