I heard the other day about a little boy commenting on the Washington fiasco, saying, "So the NFL can work out their problems but Congress can't?" It made me think about a vivid memory I have from my own childhood.
It was 1973 and I was about 9 years old. The Watergate hearings were on TV every day and I was aware that the men behind the green felt covered tables were in trouble and the men behind the microphones on the big benches were in charge. I wasn't allowed to watch much TV but even PBS children's programs were pre-empted by the hearings and there was nothing to watch after school. I didn't really understand what was going on but I knew it was bad for the president.
So here's my memory: I'm sitting at the kitchen bar on a tall barstool watching the news (or maybe some kind of news special) with my parents when I have a terrific idea. I get up and go to my room and pull out my box of hot pink stationery with my name embossed on the top in gold. I got the stationery for Christmas and I love it and I love the box it came in. I get a sharp pencil and head back to the bar to begin my project.
"Dear Mr. Nixon," I wrote in my best third-grade penmanship. I still remember the satisfaction of seeing those words at the top of the page. I don't remember exactly what else I wrote except that I closed by saying that I knew he was innocent and that I was praying for him. My parents must have helped me find the address and mail the letter because I don't think I would have known how to do that but I know that the letter was mailed because I received a thick manila envelope from the White House with a "personalized form letter" and a book about the Nixon presidency.
Just a few years later, in Mrs. Mauk's sixth grade class, we were introduced to writing research papers and each of us chose a topic. I decided to write about the Watergate scandal, analyzing political cartoons from the era. I loved writing that paper but pretty soon, it became clear to me that my confidence and my prayers had been misplaced and I felt a tiny twinge of cynicism for the first time in my life. I felt so grown-up--because now I understood how the world worked and I determined not to be so foolishly naive again.
I think the world changed dramatically for Americans of all ages in the early seventies. Another memory: I am laying in my bed only a few feet from the den where my parents are watching the news on TV. The reporter describes guerillas killing American soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam and I become upset thinking of these brave men being attacked by wild animals. I feel genuinely sad and confused about how scary the world is.
Anyway, as the world changed, we became more cynical about authority, more determined not to be duped, more negative about Washington and public service. I think we see all of that now as things disintegrate in Washington and the chatter on the internet and on cable news shows is smug and full of cynicism and resignation and conspiracy theories and contempt. It makes me think about sitting at the kitchen bar with my hot pink personalized stationery and a pencil and praying for Mr. Nixon.