My name is Robert…and my grandfather was a Democrat.
I never knew my grandfather, Clarence Erickson. Not personally, anyway. He passed away soon after I was born. I know him, however, from pictures and stories told me by my parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles and older cousins.
One thing I know about him was that he voted Democrat his whole life. I know this because during the annual July 4th Clarence and Emily Erickson Family Reunion we held a tug-of-war – Democrats on one side, Republicans on the other. As I remember it, the two sides divided almost entirely along a chronological fault with older family members banding together in support of grandpa’s sworn allegiance, and the younger crowd pulling in support of Republican ideals. There were “defections”, of course, maybe due to changing political belief, or more likely just to even up the sides. I wonder, this many years later, if our division was a generational thing, or perhaps between those that knew grandpa well, and those of us that didn’t.
Grandpa was a career farmer. He planted crops, milked cows, and built by hand the house where my parents now live. I know he knew the value of hard work and I imagine he also knew that sometimes forces bigger than oneself could nullify the fruits of those labors. The weather, of course, and the short Wyoming growing season, would have been forces with which he was very aware, but mother nature isn’t the only threat to a farmer’s success.
Married in 1928, grandpa and grandma started their life together on the threshold of what became known as “The Great Depression”. The effects of this economic calamity, as well as efforts at relief, recovery and reform – Democratic President Roosevelt’s New Deal – are well documented. I imagine grandpa witnessed hardship – his own and others – caused by forces far beyond rural Wyoming. I don’t think grandpa nor others like him were interested in handouts and likely appreciated greatly the New Deal’s relief opportunities in exchange for work, providing dignity as well as a paycheck. Maybe, maybe not.
I can only speculate having never discussed directly the roots of grandpa’s political philosophy. The annual tug-of-war, however, allowed me to witness the fruit. Grandpa’s life shaped his political allegiance, and he both reliably supported that view in his voting, and passed his loyalty down to his family – it was important to my older family members because it had been important to grandpa. I, at the time absent both life experience and grand-paternal influence, was reliably on the Republican end of the rope. I don’t remember winning or losing, nor do I recall much heated debate. I’m sure we talked some trash. I do remember we tugged, declared a winner and sat down to share grandma’s chicken noodle soup and scones.
What, then, is my grandfather’s civic legacy? What does it mean if half his progeny aligned with either major political party?
To me, it means this: Develop a world view and be able to defend it, changing sides if needed. Observe, work at it, be honorable and support honorable solutions regardless of their source – have a “tug-of-war” with those older or younger or who think differently than I do, then sit across from each other and break some bread. This philosophy guides my voting as well as my political commentary. I hope grandpa would approve.