My Politics

By John Dobby Boe

I want to begin with two poems by William Butler Years, one of my favorite poets, poems I quite like but think are wrong headed. The first, “Politics,” has as an epigraph a statement by the German novelist and in my opinion giant windbag, Thomas Mann: `In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms.’ Here’s Yeats’ poetic response to Mann’s to me sensible statement:

How can I, that girl standing there,

My attention fix

On Roman or on Russian

Or on Spanish politics?

Yet here’s a traveled man that knows

What he talks about,

And there’s a politician

That has read and thought,

And maybe what they say is true

Of war and war’s alarms,

But O that I were young again

And held her in my arms!

Yes, I too would rather look at a beautiful girl than pay attention to politics. I too, like the old Yeats, can wish I were young again and held some young woman in my arms, but I here I agree with the windbag and not the poet. I am reminded of how my sister Margaret summed up the moral of the tedious but successful novel and film, “The English Patient”: “How perfectly dreadful of World War II to mess up my love life!” I am sorry to say it, but war and war’s alarms are more important than holding someone in your arms. To believe otherwise is poetical nonsense (not that I think all poetical beliefs are nonsense, or that poetical nonsense doesn’t have its consolations).

And here’s the second, part of a poem Yeats called, “The Old Stone Cross,” in which the speaker is, I think, a representative of Yeats as the mad old man he styled himself:

A statesman is an easy man,

He tells his lies by rote;

A journalist makes up his lies

And takes you by the throat;

So stay at home and drink your beer

And let the neighbours vote,

Said the man in the golden breastplate

Under the old stone Cross.

I find this poem both charming and stupid. It is worth noting, I think, that although Yeats supported Irish revolutionaries early in his life, later he was increasingly sympathetic to the aristocracy, skeptical about democracy, and even expressed admiration for the fascist Mussolini. (In the very last years of his life he reverted to support for democracy and wrote against fascism—hey, he was a poet.)

While I myself do like to stay at home and drink my beer, I have never, no matter how disillusioned, been able to follow Yeats’ advice. I have voted in I think every presidential election and congressional and local election since I was 21. (Such votes of course count more in local elections, since fewer people vote.) And I will confess right now that all of my presidential votes, beginning in 1968 when I was 24 and voted for another windbag, Hubert Humphrey, have been for Democrats. But I get ahead of myself. I’m now going to tell you political stories from my life.

I come from strong Republican roots. My mother’s father, John Schneider, a German Immigrant tailor who became a lawyer, so much hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his democratic New Deal, that, for his entire life, he refused to take a Roosevelt dime in change. He would insist on two nickels or even ten pennies. This was sometimes embarrassing for the rest of his family.

And if anything my own father, also named John Boe, was to the right of my grandfather. His father was, I am sure, also a Republican. The first man to sell cars west of the Mississippi River, my grandfather Boe was hugely wealthy (my father had ponies as a child), then lost everything in the Great Depression of 1929. He went to California to start over, but my Grandma Beely (short for Beelzebub, but that’s another story), refused to move with him, so he, but not his political views I think, disappeared from my father’s life when my father was a young man.

Impoverished during the depression (never graduating high school, going to college for one year at the University of Montana anyway, where he and his brother had to share one winter coat), my father, amazingly, found a way to make lots of money. His path was selling encyclopedias, Colliers Encyclopedia. My dad had a knack for knocking on a strange door and talking the people (usually a young married couple) into buying a set of encyclopedias. Like much selling, like much capitalism, this sometimes involved a bit of deception, but my father never felt any guilt (I rationalized his career by the fact that at least the people were buying encyclopedias, something educational; my father needed no rationalization. He was happy enough to trick people out of their money. And so he was also a good gambler, especially with cards, where there was some psychology involved.)

My father’s first promotion (to sales manager) came when he invented what door-to-door salesman called a door opener: “Hello. I’m taking an educational survey,” he would say. “Can I just have a few minutes of your time?” He would then give the couple the survey and after they took the survey tell them, with great surprise, that because of their responses they had won a free set of encyclopedias, and that this would be the first such free set he had given away in many weeks. After signing up the couple for their totally free encyclopedia, he would show them a sample yearbook, the annual publication that kept an encyclopedia up to date. “Of course,” he would say, “you will want to get the yearbook at a cost of only $25 a year over the next ten years.” The couple would agree and sign the papers. The catch was that the whole set of Colliers Encyclopedia normally cost $250, payable over 10 years at $25 a year, and the yearbooks were normally free. By reversing the deal, my father psyched a lot of people into buying their free encyclopedias for the regular price of $250.

My father thought, rightly or wrongly, that this kind of predatory salesmanship was at the heart of American capitalism and also at the heart of the Republican party. He believed in making money and as a result I had an easy youth. I remain grateful.

When I showed more interest in the arts than in the business world, my mother would quote an adage from her childhood: “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” Her father had started as a blue-collar worker (a tailor); her husband had become a white-collar worker (eventually president and Chairman of the Board of Colliers Encyclopedia; he would be invoked to new young salesmen as the legendary “Boe who worked his way up”). Thanks largely to the University of California, my mother’s prediction has yet to come true and I don’t have to work with my hands, except with gestures when talking or at a keyboard.

My mother loved money, but she was not a flag waving Republican. She even voted for the Democrat John Kennedy against Nixon in 1960, perhaps as much because of Kennedy’s Catholicism as anything else (she had been a Catholic until she was excommunicated for divorcing her first husband and marrying my father). But she loved that my father made lots of money (over $100,000 a year in the 1950s), and she liked to help him give it away. Their deal was that he got half the money, she got half. He would spend his on high living, a new Cadillac every year, picking up every check in every bar or restaurant, and compulsively gambling; she would send money to her sister and sisters-in-law, pay for every cousin’s college education, and indulge her children. When I look back on it, I see that the term that would probably best describe us would be nouveau-riche, people squandering away money like someone new to it, rather than investing money as a wise Republican would. The only investments my father made were late in life when, wanting to act like a Republican he listened to the stock broker he played golf with and lost hugely investing the bulk of his money on the soon to be bankrupt Penn Central. So we didn’t end up rich, though people who worked for my father did.

My stepbrother Herbie (my mother’s son by her first marriage) was neither a democrat nor a Republican; probably he was and is a communist (as an adult, a science librarian at the University of Maryland, he was every year invited to a new year’s party at the Chinese embassy; he thought Gorbechev was too liberal; and he married a Russian American woman who had been in her youth an American communist). Interestingly to me, he never argued about politics with my father as I did. My father was a rational atheist materialist (he’d have been horrified to find the Republicans as the party of the Christian right) and my communist brother was also a rational atheist materialist. My father understood the rationality of Karl Marx’s position (from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs); he just thought the people were too stupid to achieve such a revolutionary change, and that the smart and the strong (men like himself) would always be running the world, skimming most of the money off the top, taking with their ability more than they needed, leaving the poor suckers to suffer as they deserved.

But I ended up, from my teenage years on, identifying myself as a Democrat. I did so maybe because of my mother, and her attitude towards black people. You see, my father was an absolute racist, of a kind that horrified me then and would horrify me even more now. He made it a rule, for example (and he was the CEO so he could make it a rule), that Collier’s Encyclopedia salesman would not sell to black people (his rationalization was that black people would necessarily fail to pay).

In high school I loved the comedian Lenny Bruce, and I once quoted one of his riffs to my mother, to the effect that no man would be a racist if he was going to be sent to a desert island and he had a choice between two women: Lena Horne (a then young and totally hot black jazz singer) or Kate Smith (a then old and 350 pound totally cold square white singer). My mother assured me that my father would choose Kate Smith. I was, in spite of myself, impressed with his commitment to racism.

Both my parents were from St Louis, not a place famous for racial tolerance, but my mother had a different point of view than my father because she was a musician, a jazz piano player (her first husband had been a jazz drummer). And so we had collections of sheet music and songbooks by black piano players like Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Albert Ammons, Duke Ellington. Influenced by my mother and my brother Herbie, I early on became a jazz lover. By the time I was a teenager, my favorite musician was Charlie Parker.

As I grew up I realized that my favorite two cultural activities were jazz and sports (especially basketball), and black people excelled at both. When I was coming of age, I believed, rightly or wrongly, the Republicans to be the party of racists (like my father) and the party of secret racists, while at least some of the Democrats believed in civil rights and integration. (As Lyndon Johnson said, when in 1964 the Democrats passed and he signed the Civil Rights Act, that meant the Republicans would control the southern vote for a generation; actually the control has lasted longer than that)

In 1951, when I was six, we lived in New Hyde Park New York (I moved every year or so in my childhood, as my fathered got transferred or promoted). My mother, I discovered, had become a New York Giants baseball fan. Summer of 1951 was maybe the most famous pennant race in history, with the Giants 13 ½ games behind in August, tying the race on the last day, then winning in a playoff with Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard round the world” home run. I watched my mother listening to these games on her kitchen radio (this was before TV for us), and got caught up in her enthusiasm. We moved the next year to Los Angeles, but I had been turned into a lifelong Giant’s fan. And the Giant’s best player for many years, the greatest athlete I had ever seen was Willie Mays, a black man. (When we moved back to New York, thanks to my father’s money I frequently saw him in person from box seats at the Polo Grounds, )

My two idols, Charlie Parker and Willie Mays, were black men. To my perception, Republicans like my father, did not respect black men. I would be a Democrat.

One time, as a newlywed, I was in St Louis, for my Grandmother’s 90th birthday party. The night before the party, my father and I went to the races, where my father won a lot of money. On the way home, we stopped to get barbecue ribs (at a black establishment of course), dinner for everyone. When we got back to Grandma’s house, my father realized he had left his very expensive binoculars (necessary equipment for a gambler who wants a good view of the race). My mother suggested we go back to the rib joint, to see if the binoculars were still there.

My father pointed out that all the workers and most of the customers in the rib join were black and so would have stolen his binoculars, but my mother convinced him to try anyway. On the ride back, my father was spewing forth racist mumblings. But when we walked into the rib place, the black man behind the counter recognized my father, and pulled the expensive binoculars from behind the counter.

“Here,” he said politely, handing the binoculars to my father, “I was hoping you would come back for these.”

As happy as my father was to have his binoculars back, he was even unhappier not to have his racist stereotypes confirmed. My heart sang, but I said nothing on the ride back to Grandma’s house.

As a teenager, I met my wife’s grandmother, who had been born in Cincinnati in the 1880’s. She was a sweet and delicate old lady, and I was stunned we she casually referred to “niggers” in her conversation. Not wanting to be rude, I didn’t say anything—after all, I told myself, she was too old to change her ways, or maybe I was too young to be correcting her.

Recently my daughter Lily went to visit her husband’s relatives in Eastern Washington. She was talking with her father-in-law’s secretary, and his secretary suggested that while occasionally a black person came into their town, thankfully none would ever dare stay after dark. My daughter, God bless her, told the secretary that she was being offensive and shouldn’t speak in such a racist way. Lily was braver and more politically correct than I was. And by the way I do think it is by definition correct to be politically correct.

My early childhood was consumed with baseball and fantasy games (the latter with my sisters), and was uninfluenced by politics, except for a couple of times. In 1950, living in New Hyde Park New York, I was laying on the living room floor, messing around with something, when I heard a radio newscaster, H. V. Kaltenborn, speculating about the dangerous possibility of red gorillas coming down from Canada and attacking the United States.

I was wildly frightened, suddenly obsessed with the idea of marauding red gorillas attacking us. Eventually I asked my mother how close we were to Canada. She said, “Not far. Maybe we can even take a vacation there some day.”

“No! no!” I cried.

Only years later did I learn about G-U-E-R-I-L-L-A-S, and figure out that Kaltenborn was talking about the possibility of the “Red,” that is Communist, guerillas, who were fighting against the US and the South Koreans in the Korean war, attacking us by marching through Russia to Siberia, crossing into Alaska, then coming down through Canada.

My second early political moment, and this was more important to me, took place in spring of 1954, when I lived in Highland Park, Illinois. I came home every day from school to find my mother transfixed by the Army-McCarthy hearings. I was ten, but my mother explained the drama.

Joe McCarthy, Republican senator from Wisconsin, was having televised hearings on alleged Soviet spies and communists in the Army. I watched because my mother watched (much as I had become a Giant’s fan, I became a politics fan because of my mother). The highlight came in June, when McCarthy accused a young lawyer, Fred Fischer, who was representing the army, of being a communist sympathizer. A senior lawyer from Fischer’s firm, Joseph Welsch, responded to this accusation: “Until this moment, senator, I never really gauged your cruelty or recklessness.” When McCarthy continued to attack Fischer, Welch said, “Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”

It was a great TV moment, better than Perry Mason. McCarthy had been humiliated by a smart old lawyer’ speech, by his rhetoric, and I had learned that politics can be as riveting as anything on TV (as the Watergate hearings and the Bill Clinton impeachment would later show; as political conventions sometimes show). Practical importance notwithstanding, televised political drama can be fun to watch, more fun for me now, I must admit, than watching baseball.

Since this is a year of presidential election, I will tell a little of my presidential history.

I was one of maybe two Democrats in my high school in Ridgewood New Jersey. When I would pick up my girlfriend (now my wife) for a date, her father, a solid Ridgewood Republican, would often have their dog Tippi do a trick for me. “Would you rather be a dead dog or a Democrat,” Judy’s father would say to the dog, and the dog would immediately roll over and play dead. I couldn’t even try to look amused.

One Friday in November 1960, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I happened to see Nixon give a speech at our high school. We felt the Nixonian death-exuding aura and did the only thing we could to purge ourselves from that force of death; we had sex for the first time. Thus the dramatic influence of politics on my life.

My sophomore year of college, 1962, was the year of the Cuban missile crisis. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I thought there was a good chance we would all die, so we felt we had made the right decision to start having sex. When we didn’t die, we still thought it was the right decision.

Later I saw JFK in person, coming to dedicate the Robert Frost library at my college, Amherst, and while my father hated JFK, he was still impressed enough with something (the office of the president?) to come to the college and respectfully watch his speech (I still remember all the secret service with weapons out on every tall building; security was better in Massachusetts than it would prove to be in Dallas just a month later).

Then of course, like everyone my age, I remember where I was when JFK was killed (it’s always been the Democrats who are killed, it seems to me). I had just badly sprained my ankle playing basketball, and was in the infirmary getting treatment, when I got the news. It seemed fitting that I was in physical pain at the time.

So then it was LBJ (“Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today” we used to chant). The war was expanding, I was graduating, and I didn’t want to go to Vietnam. I realize now that I could have just hired a lawyer and beaten the draft, but I, like other men of my generation, was consumed with the fear of going to Vietnam. The best way that I could figure to avoid being drafted was to go to graduate school, so I went to UC Berkeley to study English literature and was deferred. But then, in eventual fairness, the government took away student deferments (which obviously discriminated in favor of the wealthy), so my wife and I had our first child, Jenny (I resisted the impulse to name her Draft Deferment). While I am happy with my career as a teacher and sometimes scholar, I would not have gone to graduate school if it had not been for my need to avoid the draft. Thus politics has affected my life.

The military draft, in my life, was the single greatest example of gender discrimination. Women were not eligible for the draft (and still today men have to register and women don’t; this is still gender discrimination, I think, but it’s not manly to complain about such things). Now I think feminism is a totally good thing and I hope you all think of yourselves as feminists—or maybe you don’t believe women deserve equal pay for equal work or even the opportunity to vote. But feminism wasn’t really going to work for me or for other men as long as we were subject for the draft and women weren’t. My attitude then was, hey, lady, I am subject to being drafted and killed, so you make the damn coffee. Once there was no draft, then I would have to make my own coffee. (Fortunately I gave up drinking coffee.)

And so the war escalated, and things started getting crazy, especially because unlike with Iraq, TV showed a lot of the bloodshed. But hey it was the summer of love, 1967, and we naively thought someone might give peace a chance. For Christmas vacation1967, and my wife and I, I with a beard and too long hair, flew back east to visit my parents. On the way from the airport ten at night Dec 22, my father looked at some apartment buildings that had lights saying “Peace on Earth.”

My father pointed out the sign and said in disgust, “Damn Hippies!”

“But Dad, it’s Christmas!” I said. Then we saw a “Love” sign.

“Goddamn Hippies!” my father snorted.

The next day I shaved my beard, as my mother convinced me to by telling me that the only men allowed to wear beards were Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln. My mother was very persuasive. I have never worn a beard since.

Then in 1968 things really got crazy, or to use Hunter Thompson’s metaphor, the wave broke. Lyndon Johnson, the president of the United States, didn’t run for reelection because he wouldn’t have gotten the nomination of his party. And Bobby Kennedy, my all time favorite politician, the only one I ever really loved, was set to become the Democratic nominee for president and, I was sure, the eventual president. The U.S. would withdraw from Vietnam, saving the country billions, and work instead toward social and racial justice in the United States.

My wife Judy and I worked for Bobby Kennedy, and on our graduate student budget we gave money to Bobby Kennedy. I remember sitting in my apartment looking at TV late the night that Bobby won the California primary and seemed destined to be the Democratic Party’s nominee. And then Bobby Kennedy was killed, and things got really crazy in the country and in my life. I was sure, still am, that it wasn’t just Sirhan Sirhan who killed him (still serving an oddly silent life sentence), that it was a conspiracy to keep Kennedy from becoming president (and ever since I do tend to believe in conspiracies; hey, I think Paul really might be dead). One of my best friends came right over to my house that night at midnight, and we stayed up late, sad, hopeless, and confused.

So Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic, nominee, running against Richard Nixon. I had dear friends, a couple of them still dear friends, who abandoned the Democratic party, The friend who came over to my house after Bobby’s murder, who is now a CEO of an economic consulting firm, ended up voting for Eldridge Cleaver, a Black Panther leader, convicted rapist, and author of Soul on Ice (and later, oddly enough, a conservative Republican). My friend became something of a Maoist. He and his wife burnt their wedding pictures because wedding pictures were bourgeois. He also shoplifted steaks from the supermarket (to each according to his needs). Some of his friends used their dope-dealing money to promote radical causes. One-woman friend of his, now a successful doctor, joined the Weatherman (eventually to be called the Weather People), where she turned tricks as a whore to raise money, to buy guns and bombs, I presume.

Myself, I voted straight Democratic. Nixon won 43% to 42% with more than the margin of difference going to Peace and Freedom, socialist and other fringe left wing parties. (Ralph Nader would have been proud.)

Then came 1972, my hair still longer. Now my wife and I worked desperately for George McGovern (the one whose headquarters Nixon burgled at the Watergate, a man who was, like John Kerry, a genuine war hero, the youngest bomber pilot in World War II, a man who rightly opposed a pointless war). Judy, to her credit, even got a dogbite walking our neighborhood precincts for McGovern. I wrote a McGovern theme song, which I sang at a McGovern rally:

Give the country lots of lovin’

Give the country George McGovern

Don’t let Nixon in again

Don’t let Nixon win again

Tricky Dick will pick your pocket

Tricky Dick will stick your socket

Ought to send him off in a rocket to the moon, soon

So give the country lots of lovin’

Just give the country George McGovern, soon, soon

Of course Nixon won, then he was forced to resign (I watched his resignation on my parents’ kitchen TV, my father silent and angry). Then Carter, a smart and good man, was messed over by the hostage crisis and high oil prices, and Reagan’s people’s negotiations with Iran to keep the hostages prisoner until Reagan’s inauguration (and all the criminality of Iran-Contra, the funding of Osama Bin Laden and other Mujahadeen to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan and lead to the current horrible and non-democratic Russian state). I have a different view of Reagan than is generally taken, and I also think he was about the worst governor in California history, even though he signed my PhD diploma.

Then Bush 1 brought us Gulf War 1, but didn’t get reelected because he seemed like the elite old money he was. Then Clinton, who deserves a special mention, not just because he balanced the budget for the first time in who knows how many years to give us the kind of budget we would expect from a conservative Republican not from a so called liberal democrat.

For me Clinton also gets credit for a great cultural shift. During the impeachment hearings I was at a winery in Northern California and a group of us, various ages and backgrounds, found ourselves discussing blowjobs. I think it is a positive thing, that Clinton made strangers comfortable talking about blow jobs with each other.

Of our current president’s contributions, I will remain silent, except to praise him for the way that despite being elite old money (prep school at Andover where he would mail his laundry home to be washed rather than do it himself, then Yale and Harvard Business School), despite, in the famous phrase, being born on third base and thinking he hit a triple, he learned how to talk like a good old boy and got elected because he seemed more likeable than Gore (all because Bush Sr has the genius to bring Bush Jr up in Texas). Myself I’d rather have an unlikeable genius, but I have to admit, having seen Gore’s college grades, Gore was no genius either. They were both C- students, one at Harvard, one at Yale.

All politics is local, the Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said. For me since 1965, my local politics has been in Berkeley, also known accurately as Berzerkeley. Moving to Berkeley was liberating for me, because on the east coast I was an eccentric leftist, but in Berkeley I was normal, middle of the road. Thus I do not vote the most left local candidates, the ones who think a progressive foreign policy is crucial for a city government.

Berkeley political pressures were most obvious in nursery school, where parents were so opposed to sexism they were continually disappointed when a little girl chose to play with a doll or a little boy picked up a stick and pretended it was a gun. But Berkeley does have its charms, one of which was that my children and I routinely interacted with people of all races.

And there was the time when my daughter Lily was eight and she signed up for the Youth Basketball Association. The teams were coed, and she was not one of the best players. There was a big boy on the other team, clearly the best player on the floor. He took a shot and missed, and Lily, to her surprise, got the rebound. The big kid turned to his friend, who had been right next to Lily, and yelled, “Don’t ever let a girl get the rebound!”

The referee immediately blew his whistle and called a technical foul for sexism. Lily got two foul shots, but unfortunately wasn’t strong enough to reach the rim on either of them.

And in Berkeley my kids could not only go to Martin Luther Kind Jr Jr High, but also to Malcolm X Elementary School. Malcolm X’s birthday was a school holiday, and we celebrated, not Columbus Day, but Indigenous people’s day. And my kinds learned Kwanza songs in school. All of which I think was great. And there is another political part of my lifestyle that I take unambiguous joy in: composting and gardening. I recycle all green waste and I grow a lot of the food I eat. This saves energy, gives me exercise, is good for the environment, and fun. I think it is good politics.

But I do have another local world, that of Davis, where I have taught since 1981. The University of California was created by a political act, by Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 Morrell Act, which granted every state public land for land grant colleges. And while the university is at times the proverbial ivory tower, it has been, for me at least, often a very political place. I am a lecturer, not a professor. I am happy being a lecturer. Though I have a PhD and have published books and articles and this and that, I am a non-tenured and non-tenurable faculty member. There are basically two classes of faculty at UC, the tenured (professors and lecturers with security of employment) and the untenured (primarily lecturers, but also others, like adjunct professors).

When my wife unexpectedly got pregnant with our third child in 1981, I realized I needed a real job and applied to Davis, where, fortunately, I was hired, as a lecturer. The rule at the time was that after six years of employment you would not be rehired, no matter what the instructional need or quality of the teaching; the university did not want a permanent group of untenured teachers. The lecturers joined the American Federation of Teachers, which sued the university and won for us the right to be reviewed at the end of six years. If we were judged as “excellent” teachers, then we could be rehired for a three-year contract. I’ve liked this system, and I have been happy to be reviewed every three years. (I was not happy to go on strike a few years ago, to protest the unjust firing of lecturers who had been reviewed as excellent; the university eventually lost the case in court and the lecturers who were willing to come back were rehired with back pay. The dean who instituted the firings left in disgrace.)

Lecturers, you should understand, teach more than professors (who are obliged to do research) and generally make less money than professors. They are an important part of the faculty on all UC campuses. No UC campus could staff their courses without a sizeable number of lecturers.

When my brother was in the army, he told me that if you called a sergeant sir, he would say, “Don’t call me sir, I work for a living!” When students mistakenly call me professor, I often want to say something similar: “Don’t call me professor, I work for a living.” This is of course a joke: professors, like army officers, do in fact work, some of the professors harder than I do. But like many large institutions, like the army and the university, there is a perhaps necessary class system.

I have only one complaint about being a lecturer, which is that I have no vote in any academic matters. I once wrote a letter to Dateline, the paper of staff and faculty much as The Aggie is the paper of the students, suggesting that lecturers at least be given the same voting rights as pre-civil war slaves. After all, in 1789, African-Americans were defined in the Constitution as 3/5 of a person for purposes of apportionment; while African-Americans could not vote at all, their masters could count each of them as 3/5 of a person towards determining the number of representatives (and thus the number of votes) in the House. Why not let lecturers’ academic senate masters count a lecturer as 3/5 of a professor, rather than as is now the case, count as nothing at all as far as suffrage is concerned? I really would be happy to have the Director of the University Writing Program have my 3/5 of a vote to use as he pleased. Dateline declined to print my letter. And so when the Academic Senate or my program votes on important or even unimportant matters, I have to follow Yeats’ advice: I stay at home and drink my beer and let the professors vote.

I recently was talking to a Republican friend of mine. Yes, I do have Republican friends as well as Republican relatives. (My youngest daughter, born and raised in Berkeley, went to the University of Washington in Seattle. She called home one day her freshman year to tell me, full of excitement, “I just had tea with a Republican.” For her this was an experience akin to having just met an Australian aboriginal.) This one Republican friend of mine likes to argue (I do not) and he challenged me to explain how I could possibly support labor unions. I told him that my labor union was responsible for my having a job at all. He as a Republican understood the argument from self-interest (that’s why he as a high earner wants lower taxes on high earners). And I avoided an argument, always a high priority with me.

But I don’t want to leave you with the thought that it is only my union that has allowed me to have such a rewarding career at UCD. More important are the people, people like my friend Jim Shackelford, for just one example, who has always treated me like regular faculty and a regular guy, who has given me, a lecturer, the opportunity and privilege to teach in Integrated Studies.

For while I do think our destiny does still unfold in political terms, our lives are mostly lived on personal terms. And friendship, collegiality, love, and affection, while influenced by politics, do thrive in a world quite separate from the political.

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