MY FATHER RETIRED eight years ago. He is now a doorman in Florida.
My mother retired eight years ago. She is now a bookkeeper in Florida.
This has not been an easy election for my parents. Inflation has wasted them. The good life they looked forward to is now, suddenly, behind them. They worked at first because it kept them busy and then for a little extra money and now because they have to. Jimmy Carter expects their vote. I'm not so sure he'll get it. He has made it awfully tough for them. He hasn't made it any easier for me.
The pollsters call us the undecideds and when we are written about there is a touch of the sneer to the way we are described. Everyone knows that we will have to make up our minds, that we will, like atheists, find a version of God in the foxhole. Only our foxhole is the voting booth and when we get there and do what we have to do, we would like it known that the vote was cast under protest and that the winning candidate, be he James Earl Carter Jr. or Ronald Wilson Reagan,has no right to claim a mandate, to pretend that he is anything other than the lesser of the two evils.
He should understand that he is president simply because the country requires a president and he happened to be one of the two major candidates that year. A little humility will henceforth be in order.
In my family, you did not think about voting other than Democratic. It was, like religion, something you were raised in. It was truth. A conviction. A tradition. Call it what you want, but if you want to know the reason for it, it is simply that during Mr. Hoover's Depression, my mother had to choose between taking the subway to look for work or eating an apple. If you want to know the reason for why she voted Democratic all her life it is because during the Depression, she was hungry a great deal of the time. It cannot be simpler put than that.
My father was better off, but not much. He was an orphan, raised in "the home," farmed out to foster parents who took him for the money they got and made him work like a servant. He went to work at 16 and worked for the same company for 46 years. His stingy pension has not changed since 1972.
Poverty lurks among the palm trees. Poverty rides the gentle breezes.Poverty forces the old people into the department stores where they steal and it takes them into the smorgasboard restaurant where they fill up Baggies with food and try to sneak it out in their purses. Poverty makes their hands tremble when they reach into their change purses at the supermarket to pay for their groceries.
Thank God for Social Security. Thank God for Medicare. Thank God for FDR and Hubert Humphrey and Harry Truman and John Kennedy but not for Jimmy Carter. Maybe it is time to break a lifetime's voting pattern. Maybe it is time.
On Tuesday my mother and my father will go and vote. They will vote because not to vote is a thought that never occurred to them. They will do what they have to do, but they will do it without any enthusiasm. Jimmy Carter, who has presided over their retirement, has botched the job. Life had become harder for them, but they can put up with that. They fear, though, for Israel, and that is a different matter.
Their son, the columnist, is cerebral about Israel. He is dispassionate. He has supped with the PLO, broken bread with the guerrillas. He is young and their son and so they will forgive him. He is not the one, after all, who was turned away from jobs because he is Jewish and he is not the one who was born in a Polish town of joyous Jewish culture in which there is, today, not a single Jew -- not even the cemetery is left.
Their son, the columnist, did not live through the Second World War. He was too young to have been horrified by the Holocaust. He grew up with it as a fait accompli -- like the atomic bomb. He did not live as an adult through an era when people were killing Jews because they were Jews. Maybe this is why he could sup with the PLO. Maybe this is why he could break bread with the guerrillas. Maybe this is why Israel to him is just another issue -- an important issue, but not the most important issue.
Do not, I warn you, argue with my father about Israel. Do not trot out your revisionist history and your cutsie, leftist dogma and give him an education. Do not address intellectually what is emotional and do not presume that the word paranoia has any meaning for Jews his age.
For this reason, accept that Jimmy Carter has not made him happy. For this reason, accept that the peasant Polish face of Zbigniew Brzezinski gives him the chills. For this reason, accept that after a lifetime of voting Democratic, of the lessons of the Depression, the leadership of FDR and the miracle of the revered (in my home) Eleanor, the snap and growl of Truman, the dash and romance of Kennedy, the heart, compassion and then, tragic, insanity of Lyndon Johnson, the schmaltz of Humphrey and the fact that Richard Milhouse Nixon was in the other party . . . accept that on Tuesday the walk to the polls will be long and rough and not easy to make. Others would stay home, but my parents will go.
Their son, the columnist, does not like Carter, either -- never did. He is offended by his piety, his religiosity, his language -- how he loves everyone. He is offended by his inexperience and his terminal ignorance -- how he never seems to learn. He thinks the men around the president are bush league, rising every now and again to heights of mediocrity, and he thinks a foreign policy that wobbles and twists and turns and cannot be predicted because it does not exist is as dangerous as stupid statements from Ronald Reagan.
He -- I-- am appalled by a president who cannot manage Congress, who has no visions for the country, who buckles under pressure, who does not know his own mind, who cannot lead. Jimmy Carter can not lead. Jimmy Carter is not a leader. He is an aide de camp. He is a terrific number two. He is not a number one.
Still, Reagan, is unacceptable. Still, I can not vote for a man with such views. His opposition to ERA alone is enough for me. He would be a disaster in foreign policy and his appointments to the Supreme Court would be a catastrophe for the accused and blacks and women. His views on the Middle East are simplistic and instead of securing peace they will, in the long run, jeapordize it. Thank God, unlike my parents, I can concentrate on more cerebral issues.
I cannot remember when I bought that first bottle of Worcestershire sauce home. It was not all that long ago and I bought it because we had run out and I was annoyed at that. I bought one bottle and then, every time I went shopping, I bought another bottle. Recently, my wife opened the cabinet to show me something like eight bottles of sauce. That day, as a joke, I bought another.
My first bottle of Worcestershire sauce cost 99 cents. I have bottles that cost $1.09 and $1.19 and $1.29 and, the latest, $1.39. Those bottles are beginning to bother me.
I have a pension plan that I am beginning to take an interest in. I'm not sure -- I can not be sure -- what it will mean to me when I retire. I fear getting caught the way my father did. I save for my son's college education, but the way things are going, I could never save enough.
The future, in short, scares me a bit. I make more now than I ever thought I would and I live in a house that is worth as much as a battleship used to be, but I am scared nonetheless. I don't save much because I can't save much and because it doesn't make any sense to save much. I have debts that the accountant tells me are assets but they worry me like debts anyway.
I don't eat out much anymore.
I have a nine-year-old car.
I make more than most people.
Knowing my parents they'll vote their pocketbooks and choose the Democrats.
If I vote my pocketbook, I'd vote for the Republicans.
But I can't decide how to vote.
Neither can they.
If it's cold Tuesday, I'll stay home.
It's never cold in Florida.
The Depression generation never has it easy.