Who influenced my thinking? Was it my parents? My schoolmates? My friends? My profession?
They all played a part.
I don’t remember my parents as being political junkies. However, I do remember them supporting Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon in the 1950s.
Maybe it was my rebellious nature, but I led the campaign for Democrat Adlai Stevenson in our third-grade mock election. Stevenson, of course, lost in a landslide — in both the general election and in my school mock election.
My parents would occasionally broach the subject of politics at the dinner table. I wouldn’t label them as conservatives or liberals — they just wanted the country to be managed properly. If that meant Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were the best candidates, so be it. I didn’t argue with them about their political beliefs. I listened to what they had to say and nodded in agreement.
I really didn’t take an active interest in politics until I entered college. My freshman year was 1968 and there was turmoil in the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated that year. The United States was embroiled in a bitter war with the communists in Vietnam.
Political activism was rampant on the Central Michigan University campus through my years at the university. Anti-war speakers Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda spoke against the war during visits to CMU. It was easy to get caught up in the anti-war fervor.
As the war raged on and the student protests escalated, I became more interested. I began to follow politics more closely. Although I was a veteran, I felt the war in Vietnam was an unnecessary one.
I also became friends with some anti-war students. One of my friends was my roommate. Les Johnson was not only opposed to the war, he helped counsel students who didn’t want to be drafted.
Les didn’t tell them to go to Canada. Instead, he explained to them some of the options available, such as doing community service work in a hospital.
Years later, Les and I reunited and talked about those college days. We both admitted that we had become more conservative as time passed.
Les went to work for the government; I began a long career as a journalist.
Newspapers have reputations as being bastions of liberalism. There is some truth to that. Most journalists graduate with liberal arts degrees. They took classes in political science and sociology, which generally are liberal-orientated.
But most newspapers are owned by conservative businessmen or corporations. The Del Rio News-Herald in Texas, where I worked in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was owned by a rancher until he sold the paper to a national chain. The owner was very conservative and a supporter of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Our opinion page reflected his views.
I worked as a reporter and news editor, and wasn’t involved in the writing of editorials. My liberal viewpoints had no influence in Del Rio. But I voted for Jimmy Carter.
A move to Flagstaff, Ariz., didn’t change my outlook on politics. The Arizona Daily Sun was as conservative as the Del Rio News-Herald. The newspaper supported Reagan. I voted for Carter, who lost in a landslide.
As a reporter, you try to keep your political beliefs to yourself. But admittingly, it sometimes shows up in our stories.
It wasn’t until I became managing editor of the Grand Haven Tribune that I began to have a say in the political philosophy of a newspaper.
But my word wasn’t final. I wanted the newspaper to endorse Al Gore in his election bid. I managed to get the newsroom staff to endorse my proposal. But the publisher vetoed our vote and the Tribune ended up endorsing George W. Bush, the winner.
I tried to be as fair as possible in endorsing candidates, but I know we angered some readers when we endorsed Barack Obama for president. A woman called and said I had to be a liberal from Massachusetts (a notoriously liberal state). I had a hard time convincing her that I was from Michigan.
The Tribune no longer endorses presidential candidates, a choice that I now agree with. Our readers know who they want to support. They don’t need anyone telling them who to vote for.
While I profess to voting mostly Democratic, I will not be afraid to cross party lines and vote for the best candidate. Mom and Dad would have approved.