Why I take the N.C. election personally

This is a personal story.

I am a strong supporter of President Obama primarily because I agree with his policy views, and I think his re-election provides the best chance for the best policy going forward. However, my support of him does not explain why I have worked so hard on the grassroots “get out the vote” aspects of his campaigns in 2008 and again this year (I didn’t go door-to-door for President Clinton, or for VP Gore or Sen Kerry).

The reason is encapsulated in this television commercial, the so-called “Hands” ad that appeared in the 1990 North Carolina Senate race between Senator Jesse Helms and Harvey Gantt.

Like most kids, I voted like my parents, who are fairly conservative (but I should note not the least bit racist; in fact, the opposite) and so-voted for the re-election of President George HW Bush in 1988, the first time I was old enough to vote. However, I didn’t have a particularly strong party identification, in part because of the influence of my granddaddy who was a blue-dog, Eastern North Carolina Democrat with whom I spent much time growing up and who also had a great influence on me. But, I come from fairly conservative stock.

As the 1990 campaign approached, I recall mostly feeling like Senator Helms represented the “rear view mirror” of North Carolina and that it was time for a change. However, I was a person without a strong party identification and still thrashing about for my political identity. I volunteered a bit that year for Mayor Gantt’s campaign and it seemed like he had a reasonable chance of winning, at least until the “hands” ad appeared and Senator Helms was re-elected (I also lived in Chapel Hill then, so I may have been overly optimistic).

That fall, the Republican Party lost me forever, because of that despicable ad. That ad encapsulates what I have mostly HEARD* from most Republican candidates since then: appeals to my fears. And I am a hopeful person.

On election night 2008, even after President Obama was declared the victor, I was desperately nervous to see if he had won the state of North Carolina, which he did by 14,000 votes (out of over 4.3 Million cast). I wept that night when it became clear that he had won North Carolina, because it put the politics that made Senator Helms’ hands ad so potent a bit further in the rear view mirror of my great state.

As a 44 year old man who grew up in the rural South, I am still sometimes struck when I see President Obama and re-remember that we have a black President. However, my children who are 12, 15 and 17 think nothing of it, and for that I am glad. That is what progress looks like, and the election of President Obama greatly advanced our country in this intangible way.

*it may not be what they meant to say, but it is what I have heard.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University https://academiccouncil.duke.edu/ . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

5 Responses to Why I take the N.C. election personally

  1. I can still remember my disappointment when Jim Hunt lost to Helms – I guess that would have been ’84? We rode with the folks to vote at Millbrook Elementary and we saw Hunt in the back of his car being driven away. I couldn’t believe Hunt lost. I was only 13 and didn’t know the ugly guys won sometimes, too!

    As much as I like Obama I’m against abortion and he’ll put at least one or more justices on the court his next term. A Republican president may be unpalatable in a myriad of ways but he would undoubtedly limit the number of abortions.

    And for every Jesse Helms there’s a Democrat out there who used/uses the same dirty tricks to get elected. Jesse didn’t do that because he was Republican; he did it because he thought the end justified the means.

  2. marileeza says:

    Damon, a victory by a Republican president would not really limit the number of abortions. It just would increase the kind that are done unprotected in “back rooms” and in shady places. It would put more women’s lives at risk and even suicides. But that never concerns the people who are so misguided as to cry out for fetuses, yet never fight against the death penalty, prison conditions, or miscarriages of justice. So go figure. . . Think about it.

  3. marileeza says:

    To Don:
    We appreciate and applaud the metamorphosis. Praise God for your work done well. I deplore the results of North Carolina this time, but that just ensures us that there is still a great deal of work we still have to do to rise up to this challenge in the next four years. Thank you for all you do and have done. We applaud you.

  4. Pingback: The potential impact of one voting change in Durham, N.C. | freeforall

  5. Pingback: The potential impact of one voting change in Durham, N.C. « The Reality-Based Community

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