A Pundit I Would Be!
April, 1999: fulfilling a parenting bucket list item, I take my almost-10-year-old daughter to meet our Congressman, David Wu, at his tiny office across the street from the Capitol.
I know the exact moment I became interested in politics.
It was January, 1968. I was in the first grade. As the New Hampshire primary drew near, presidential candidates were roaming up and down the state, holding rallies in any building that would host them. One of those buildings was the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church in the border town of Salem, of which my father, in his first full-time Methodist appointment, was the pastor. The candidate was Richard Nixon. I got the morning off from school so I could attend the rally, which featured young women dancing in straw hats. After the rally, Pat Nixon called my brother Jon a "beautiful baby."
Thanks to that event, I was in Nixon's pocket for the next six years. Watergate did not move my devotion to him: instead, I felt sorry for him. I remember seeing a news clip in which he was walking with several other men, and one was arguing with him to the point that Nixon actually shoved him. That's right, the President of the United States laid hands on some guy and shoved him away. I didn't see that as a problem for Nixon. I was in junior high now, with many years of experience being bullied, and I saw on Nixon's face the look of someone who just couldn't take the bullying anymore.
I remember reading a strange new comic strip that appeared on the editorial page of the Twin Falls (Idaho) newspaper that would often be just four panels with the same picture, either the Capitol dome or the White House, and voices coming out of it. Sometimes even got the joke.
I mourned for Nixon when he resigned, but acknowledged it was time for him to go. Now Gerry Ford, who seemed a decent man put in an impossible position, became my political hero. When he lost the election to Jimmy Carter, I wrote him a letter expressing my sorrow that he would not continue to be President. I got a reply on White House stationery that I treasured for years.
My fascination with politics had come a long way. Now I was (mostly) getting the jokes in Doonesbury, understanding the editorial cartoons, and even reading opinion columns. I was still naively conservative and Republican, but I was beginning to see more complexity to politics than partisanship allowed for. One of the highlights of my high school years was Youth Legislature, a few days in May when civics-minded juniors and seniors took over the Oregon state capitol, writing and debating legislation in the committee rooms and legislative chambers real politicians occupied in odd-numbered years.
I was also an actual editorialist by now, writing opinion pieces for the school newspaper. My choice of colleges came down to Willamette, where my plan was to major in music education (and math--though a year of calculus was to divorce me of that dream), or the University of Oregon, where I would've been a journalism major. I wound up at Willamette, where I wrote for the campus newspaper for two years, and joined Model United Nations. I also had friends who were political science majors, and we had some rip-roaring debates over the dinner table and in our dorm rooms. Being a student at a liberal arts college opened my eyes to many new ideas, and I left Republicanism behind once and for all.
As my senior year approached, I began to wonder what I'd been missing, with the high number of music and education classes required for my major keeping me from electives in other fields. I took some summer courses at U of O, loved them, and, my final semester at Willamette, finally took a poli sci course there. For years afterward, I would wonder if I'd made a mistake choosing music education; because the political analysis was clearly my bread and butter.
In the years that followed, I was to walk away from music education after just a year in the field, heading off to seminary. Being a Methodist minister fed may of my political impulses. Methodist polity is all about parliamentary procedure, so I frequently got to indulge my legislative impulses, at times writing and debating legislation, at other times chairing legislative committees. Writing sermons is also a lot like editorializing from a theological perspective.
Other aspects of ministry, though, did not suit me well, and in time, I left that line of work, eventually drifting back to teaching music--and finding a ways to love it (thank you, Carl Orff!).
Then, in 2013, I decided it was time to really put on the pundit hat. I had a lot to write about it, and there was a platform called blogging I'd dabbled in, but never taken very seriously. I'd spent almost twenty years trying to write good fiction, only to find again and again that no matter how passionate I was about what I filled the page with, it simply didn't hold up when I read it myself. But punditry--analyzing and commenting on issues of the day--was a pastime I enjoyed even when I knew nobody was going to read what I wrote. So I began this blog, and rather than let a narrow focus limit me, used it to write about whatever was on my mind: aging, politics, theology, popular music, movies, TV, culture, travel, comedy, and on and on. This will be my 596th entry in this online journal. I suspect it now runs into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of words.
Occasionally what I write here finds an audience, and can even pick up a few hundred views. More often it scores somewhere between 20 and 40. I know I have a few devoted followers who will click on it, whatever the topic. I rarely respond to comments--went down that rabbit hole once, in the first few months of the blog, and had to end a friendship over it. I'm not doing this to start arguments, though I enjoy being in dialogue with other thoughtful people. I'm really just doing it to express myself, and if what I write moves someone to change their mind (or, more likely, to dig in and hold even tighter to whatever it was that I wrote against), that's icing on the cake of getting to play pundit.
The greatest advantage of blogging is that I don't have to artificially cut it off after a few paragraphs, as happened to me when I was writing op-eds for the campus newspaper. Unfortunately, I do occasionally give in to indulgence and write for more than I need to. Blame it on the fact that endings are hard (I found this to be true about sermons, too). But also, if I've still got something to say, I'm going to say it. This is my blog. If you don't like it, stop reading.
If you do like it, on the other hand, thanks for reading! And now I can finally indulge the Scout camp song I quoted in the title:
"If I weren't a Boy Scout, I wonder what I'd be? If I weren't a Boy Scout, a pundit I would be! Opinion! Opinion! Don't like it? Tough!"
(If you can think of a better gimmick for the pundit verse, by all means, share it with me in the comments.)