Cocalico Corner: A day in the political life

By on November 2, 2016
Donna Reed, author of the weekly column, Cocalico Corner

It’s a presidential election made of, by, and for the media, it seems.

Talking heads chatter non-stop, Web sites — biased and objective — are filled with the latest news about the Donald and Hillary. Political commercials fill television and radio broadcasts.

With all this broadcast bombardment, it can be tough to see the personal side of it all.

But last Friday, the intersection of my two lives — that of a working journalist and a sitting elected official — allowed me to bear one-on-one witness to the effect this extraordinary and unprecedented presidential election is having on area folks.

Friday, Oct. 28, started out at Cocalico Middle School in Denver with its annual Career Day event. For the third year, I was fortunate enough to share with students what I think is the best job in the world — being a reporter.

I shared what it takes education-wise to become a journalist and the joys and challenges of a life in local news offers. As a reporter, I’ve had my brush with national news and presidential campaigns, from college days reporting on the 1972 Democratic nominee George McGovern who lived nearby our university to being a copy girl for the DC bureau of the Baltimore Sun during the 1976 presidential primaries to interviewing Joan Mondale, the Democratic vice presidential nominee’s wife, in Reading later that year to covering a Ronald Reagan visit to nearby Montgomery County in the 1980s and a George W. Bush visit to Kutztown in 2004.

Over the years, I’ve gone to rallies featuring Muriel Humphrey (1968!), Barbara Bush (2000), and Bill Clinton (2008), two stumping for their spouses, the other for her son.

There are too many surrogates to mention. And then there was the time I saw candidate and then Sen. Barack Obama in Reading in spring 2008. Well, to be accurate, I only really saw his leg as he climbed back on to the campaign bus.

For me, whether I support a candidate or not, I always feel it is important to directly experience campaigns.

Friday’s experience with the middle schoolers was every bit the eye opener as listening to a candidate.

In each class, we talked presidential politics and journalism, Watergate being the historic bellwether of the confluence of the two.

In each class, I asked students about their favorite candidate. As expected in heavily Republican Cocalico, candidate Trump saw the most support with candidate Clinton trailing him, very slightly in most classes. But then there was the troubling part of the puzzle — more hands were raised in non-support for either. Independent candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party got a single nod from a very determined girl.

To me, the unpopularity of the two key candidates is both stunning and sorrowful. Truly, the tween years are when kids are most imbued studying history and when the exposure to the possibilities of changing the world through our democratic (that’s a lower ‘d’) society should be high in their psyches.

The tenor of this election, bitter and unsavory, and borderline obscene, has had the opposite impact.

Many kids stated their parents are so soured on the election that they will not be voting. That is perhaps the most upsetting revelation of the day.

I drove to the office thinking a lot about that and feeling pretty sad. Then, a pretty terrific thing happened — an unscheduled visit from a lady who is old enough to remember the suffragette movement and, at 99, young enough to keep voting.

You’ll read more about her next week, but I will tell you that after a lively conversation with this spirited lady and her daughter, it was clear to me that age, enthusiasm, and democratic (again small ‘d’) convictions surely go hand-in-hand for her.

A blurry Bill Clinton faces a sea of cellphones at a rally at Albright College on Oct. 28. Photo by Donna Reed

A blurry Bill Clinton faces a sea of cellphones at a rally at Albright College on Oct. 28. Photo by Donna Reed

Later that afternoon, along with hundreds of others, I stood in a long line around the Albright College Bollman Center to see former President Bill Clinton speak on behalf of his wife, Democratic (capital ‘D’ here) presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The enthusiasm of the 2,500-plus audience, about half of whom were students, was clear. Though the former president took the stage about 20 minutes late (actually good for him!), it was clear the Bill Clinton charisma was intact after all these years. He addressed the attacks directed at his wife (including the FBI letter of that day to Congress about ever more emails) and said he might see why “good old boys like me” are often among Trump’s supporters. But he contended many do not dig deep enough to understand who he really is.

He dropped enough names of people and places to draw cheers — including a nice round of applause from Lancastrians there.

But one thing President Clinton said should strike home no matter what side of the aisle we occupy:

“Too much poison has been poured down the throats of the American people in this election.”

With that “taste” in my mouth, I headed up Route 222 to the Kutztown Grange with some friends for state Sen. Judy Schwank’s annual turkey dinner. (Disclaimer here: Schwank is a longtime friend and colleague and I am a longtime supporter of her. She does not represent any portion of the Cocalico or larger Ephrata region we cover though she was once — long ago — a Clay Township resident.)

The grange hall basement was filled with Democrats and Republicans. Schwank is one of those uniquely well liked officials who enjoys clear bipartisan support.

Everyone chatted and chowed down enough lettuce with bacon dressing, potato filling, dried corn, and turkey to last us through Thanksgiving Day.

Even as many talked politics and issues, I heard no raised voices, even among the mix of diners who, at one table alone, sported Hillary, Bernie, and Trump (yes, Trump) shirts and buttons.

As I spoke with an African-American Reading schools administrator sitting across from me and his attorney wife next to me, I thought about the long day of politics I’d experienced.

On the drive back home to Reading, it struck me that though the focus of this presidential election is national, the focus of my day was testament to the tried and true adage that “All politics is local.”

And, yes, all politics is personal as well.

Election Day is less than a week away. Get out there and vote on Nov. 8. It’s your personal right and responsibility.

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