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Election Reflections

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When you're waiting to hear news about what's going on with the lives of people you love, and the candidates you believe in, the wait feels longer when you're away - can you imagine what those waits must feel to them? The candidates who stay through the years have patience, a special urgency and stamina.

I learned a lot about politicians growing up. Even though my father ran a film studio his passion was for the land, the America that rescued his parents who fled Russian pogroms. My father caught more magnetic energy from politics than from film. I remember his rages during the HUAC hearings; and watching him weep in front of the TV he bought just to watch the McCarthy trials. And my brother and sister and I caught the excitement and the glamour when a senator or congressperson visited. I knew he'd rather see me run for Congress than go into the movie business. It was thrilling to write the letter to the politican the next day on our own monogrammed letter paper saying how glad we were to have been introduced; how proud we were to wear the campaign button to school, and then our Dad made it okay with our school that we could wear campaign buttons to class - this was America after all. Stevenson gave me one of his silver shoe buttons. He'd been photographed with his leg crossed, and a hole in his shoe. "See," the shoe said, "Even though I command our language, I'm one of the guys."


It's very different being away from home, out of the fever's loop. But even six months ago, my heart was pounding, and I stayed up all night watching for primary results, and then reading Obama's fine books. There are other serious reasons - yes. But this - I cannot be watching; at TV's glass window, from the distance.


Stevenson also thought our sandbank of reason "would continue to grow like some of man's better dreams. "

It's sure taken it's own good time. I met Stevenson several times - he wasn't tall; he didn't look like a movie star; but I never saw Lauren Bacall eye any other guy with quite this reverent adoration, crazy for every word he said. My best friend, Johanna Mankiewicz, and I hoped he'd just stay single a few more years, and then at least one of us could marry him.

Stevenson did have three sons by a former marriage. The oldest one was kind of awkward and serious; the youngest one was stubby, smart with a wit he was too shy to throw around like his dad did. The middle one, Borden, was going out with one of Governor Warren's daughters (we thought she was kind of fast). And I remember thinking my dad was just about as big a leader as hers, for heaven's sake, my dad was head of MGM - maybe not as large a population as California, but MGM had a far heavier percentage of movie stars than any state in the union.

One night in the summer of 1952, just before the convention, Borden took me to a party at Frank Sinatra's. The women there were tan, blonde and wearing black sheath dresses with low necks, push up bras and ankle straps. They sat on the edge of big beige sofas, and leaned down laughing and swirling ice cubes in their drinks as they talked to rough guys with open collar shirts, shiny suits and big watches. Humphrey Bogart came over and took away my drink. "You're the only virgin at this party," he said. He left the room and about twenty minutes later Adlai Stevenson came in. He glared at Borden. "I'm taking you home," he told me. Then in the back of his car (a Chrysler, not a fancy limo), he put his hand on my knee nicely, "the next time you go out with a Stevenson, make sure it's the right one." I felt great. He knew I was embarrassed, and he made me feel safe and not criticized all at once. He had rare perceptions. I'd been scared the ride would be stiff and chilly. I laughed and then we talked about how bad Nixon was, and how I was sure Stevenson would win. I didn't believe he was truly sure the country was ready, maybe he was too wise and too eloquent, a combination we say we're never ready for; but we were ready for Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. And even with the Republicans outrageous distraction we must be ready for Obama who combines wisdom, eloquence and twenty-first century savvy.

What Americans want is assurance from its candidate, a candidate who believes we are ready to join that world and to move forward.

In the winter of 1971, we were talking about the presidential election of 1972; we were also excited about this special double issue of New York Magazine introducing Ms. Magazine.


We were women gathered for coffee around Barbara Seaman's big kitchen table on the Upper West Side: we included the glamorous Lois Gould, Alix Kates Shulman, Betty Friedan, and a bright young poet wearing hot pants, Erica Jong. And there we were, fascinated by this serious magazine that would consider life from the feminist point of view. Then, right before me was the bright red cover of Ms. - the Indian Goddess (Durga), a baby in her belly. In her eight arms she's clutching a steering wheel, an iron, a mirror, a telephone, a clock, a duster, a frying pan, and a typewriter. Then, up on the top left corner was the headline, "MS RATES THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES." The one who came in first in every category was Shirley Chisholm; Hubert Humphrey was negative in every category; Nixon came in last; and Robert Kennedy was only fair negative as far as "taking women seriously," (there was the machismo factor.) It's a great chart to look at. Today the candidates just behind Chisholm were Gene McCarthy (not to be confused with Joe McCarthy, who you've all heard of, as looming a villain as America ever had). Gene McCarthy was wise, dry, interesting, had style and polish, and he was even with McGovern, who a lot of people liked, but he didn't have McCarthy's steely, cool perspective, a word to look at when you're considering someone to govern your country. McGovern was a nice salesman and then there was Muskie -- about as interesting as John Kerry. But the one we loved, even though we feared she'd never make it, was Shirley Chisholm, the Congresswoman from New York. The subjects then were Red China; what we referred to then as Ecology, "the wage-price freeze and offshore oil". We were looking for independence. The pack of candidates were wide open and in the early lists we saw the courage to challenge the status quo. There was Wilbur Mills who had a forced work bill requiring a welfare mother to put all her kids in child care centers, and to accept any job she was offered. If she didn't, she'd lose all her welfare benefits - the program was known as the "Southern Fried Chicken program" because President Nixon had talked to Chicken Delight about franchising the centers. Mills wouldn't give Ms. an interview.

Chisholm fought for women's right all her life. She died in 2001 - and as Congresswoman, she, with Bella Abzug, introduced all kinds of new ways to protect women; Chisholm said, "I've suffered more discrimination as a woman than as a black." She also believed in the power of prayer. "When I pray on my knees for ten minutes, I seem to have a new lease on life." She insisted on reform in the convention rules - and proposed challenging any delegation to the convention that wasn't 50% women. She said, " We Americans have come to believe it is our mission to make the world free. I intend to vote "no" on every bill that provides money for the Department of Defense until our values and priorities have been turned right side up again."

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