My first memory of a Presidential election was the Nixon/ Kennedy race. I was 8-years-old and the rally song to the tune of “Whistle While You Work” told me everything I thought I needed to know about politics:
Whistle While You Work
Nixon is a Jerk
Eisenhower has no power
Kennedy’s going to work.
Not very clever come to think of it. My folks were liberal Democrats and Kennedy was their man.
Our neighbors up the street, Sven (11) and Vincent (8) came over to play one day having just come from a Nixon rally with their family. There they stood at our front door wearing faux Straw Hats, just like you saw on Main Street Disneyland or in The Music Man.
That was the visual imprint I’ve never forgotten all these years. Both brothers were towheads, just short of albino. You just didn’t get any whiter. That’s what I thought it meant to be a Republican.
The boys came upstairs with my brother and me and when they told us where they’d been, we reacted with the indignation of our half-baked political notions.
I had twin beds that were catty corner to each other and I remember my brother and I, jumping from bed to bed, criss-crossing through the air, clutching our stomachs and making loud retching sounds. This went on for quite a while.
Sven and Vincent stood there, bewildered and not very moved by our opinion. This made me madder. I wanted to be persuasive. I wanted them to re-think their parents’ position. What was the matter with them anyway? Why didn’t they ‘get’ that Kennedy was just…well…better, therefore he should be President?
Everything about Kennedy seemed so ‘now’, while Nixon was stuck in the past, so clearly reflected by the choice of the Straw Hats. The only thing missing in my mind were arm garters and handlebar moustaches.
Here are some lyrics to a Kennedy campaign song:
Do you want a man who’s seasoned and knows just what to do?
But not so dog-gone seasoned that he won’t try something new?
Something new….something new. You mean like “change”???? Where have I heard that before?
Laraine Newman is a founding member of The Groundlings Theatre Company and an original cast member of Saturday Night Live. She lives in her hometown of Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.
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