My first political memory and my grandmother’s commentary

It was 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.  I saw the funeral on television, at age six.  There was a casket, and a long line of soldiers or National Guardsmen (?), standing motionless with tight chinstraps and very serious expressions, or so I seem to recall.

I knew what death was, but otherwise I struggled to understand.  Suddenly my grandmother blurted out something like: “If one of those guys moves an inch, they’ll line him up and shoot him!”

An early instance of fake news you might say, but since that time I have sought to place that comment in a broader framework.  I have thought of a few options:

1. She thought this was the case.

2. She wished this was the case.

3. She felt the need to express the gravity of the situation to me and my sister, and this was the first thing that came to her mind.  Since I had not much of a framework for processing the comment, she didn’t regard it as a lie or falsehood, rather a dab of added meaning.

4. She had just read Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony.”

5. She sought to instill discipline in me, and was reaffirming her own role at the center of this process, and here was a didactic example to be cited.  A smaller penalty, such as a decrease in shore leave, I might not have understood.

6. She enjoyed lying.

7. I enjoy lying.

Of these, #3 seems the most likely, with a bit of #5 and maybe #2.

How much of our political discourse fits the general pattern of this exchange?

My second political memory is the evening of the Nixon-Humphrey election.

I still have fairly good political memories of the early 1970s, including (especially) Watergate, and now this knowledge is worth more than it used to be.


I can remember listening to the L.A. news radio the morning after poor RFK was assassinated 49 years ago and saying, "Okay, okay, RFK was assassinated, but did Don Drysdale get his record setting sixth straight shutout last night?"

When Emilio Estevez made his pretty good 2006 movie about that night, "Bobby," I liked that his central character, the Chicano kitchen worker in the famous picture, is more concerned with Drysdale's record than the California primary.

I was an undergrad at UC Santa Barbara and had worked for RFK in that staunchly Republican area leading up to the primary. I didn't have a television set in my apartment and only found out the next morning when I got the LA Times from the porch. It was shocking to just look at the headline having experienced JFK's death almost five years earlier.

Steve is correct that lots of us were following Drysdale's shutout string. I well remember when a hit batsman was overruled by the plate umpire, negating the run that would have broken the string before the record was attained. Vin Scully's call of that event still resonates. It was a weird year for baseball with only one American League, Yazstremski, batting over .300. Denny McClain won 30 games, last time that ever happened.

I only realized in this century that RFK was assassinated on the one-year-anniversary of Israel's Pearl Harbor-like takeout of the Egyptian air force that launched the Six Day War in 1967. In retrospect, Sirhan Sirhan was the first Palestinian terrorist, but we didn't realize that at the time because Palestinian terrorism wasn't a conceptual category that existed for Americans until the next year when the Palestinians conducted a number of spectacular skyjackings. I can only recall Sirhan being called "Jordanian" at the time.

We hadn't really heard much about the existence of Palestinians back then. You have to say that Palestinian terrorism from 1969 onward succeeded in raising awareness of the Palestinian nation.

So you favor terrorism?

Palestinian but not Muslim. Sirhan Sirhan was and is a Christian.

Born into an Eastern Orthodox family. In the states, they were all over the map. The mother was on the staff of a presbyterian congregation and Sirhan took an interest in Rosicrucianism.

Seems like Tyler Cowen, and to a degree Steve Sailer, are the Last Man in Francis Fukuyama's excellent "End of History" book. If you've never read the book, you have no idea what you're missing and what I'm talking about (neo-Hegelian theme).

And if you disagree with Tyler, you're Fukuyama's Man With No Chest (somewhat akin to the meme of a 'snowflake'), not to be confused with C. Eastwood's Man With No Name (who himself is an exemplar of a Last Man Standing).

Men without chests is not Fukayam's concept at all which you'd know if you read the book and not the Wikipedia page. Also you are completing inverting the meaning of the term the last man. It isn't the last "manly" man left or as you confusedly put it "last man standing" (maybe you mean the sitcom you seem like a sitcom not a books type guy) it describes the telos of liberal democracy- people who have subsisted a desire for recognition and greatness for rational consumption.

Additionally men without chests has nothing to do with the notion of snowflake personality. It has to do with the decline of self assertiveness that emerges as a byproduct of liberal democracy. The spirted self assertiveness of the classical ethos gives way to one of self preservation and mass man.

You are laughably counterposing two concepts which in fact signify the same thing. The last man is the man without chest.

You, Sam Fulsome, live up to your name. I read the book. All you did was spin your wheels. I said 'snowflake', an imprecise term, is akin to the man without chest, not exactly the same thing. Further, Fukayama (not "Fukayam" (sic) like you spell it) gives credit to the Soviet Bloc theorist (name escapes me) that originated a lot of the Neo-Hegelian philosophy in his book. You're dismissed little man. Go to the yacht club of Washington DC to meet your master. Shhh, quiet unless spoke to boy.

The poor man doth protest to much. It's kojeve and he's french. He spent almost no time in the Soviet bloc and was educated in the west. And men without chest isn't his idea either it was CS Lewis.

Honest question have you ever read a book?

I love humiliating you- you are so so so stupid and so so so deserving of public humiliation. To supplement your private humiliation of crippling loneliness and importence.

My first political memory, while living in Norway, is of Norwegian news mentioning Billy Carter as a liability for Jimmy Carter. I must have been 10, if this was the 1980 election cycle. I guess it's better following Sailer than Ray! Although Ray is entertaining as well, but bringing a lady to the US seems like the wrong move, especially if in the 1%.

PS, this might be Robert Mondavi talking!

Seems like Ray managed to post between me reading and posting, the cunning one percenter!

You been drinking Viking1? Drinking that expensive Robert Mondavi wine, which I also enjoyed when living in Silicon Valley, which will never get you drunk? ;-) Speaking of movies and "Bobby" as Sailer says, I am viewing the movie "Pawn Sacrifice" (2014) starring Tobey Maguire and you know what I can't stand? Maguire, though a good actor, does NOT LOOK AT ALL like Bobby Fischer. That is SO ANNOYING. OMG! It messes with my mind as a chess player to such a degree that I find myself fast forwarding through the movie. It really bothers me, to a degree I can't even articulate. Fischer did not look at all like the short, serious Maguire. Before Fischer's mental illness, he was eccentric but likeable, and he was TALL. Why did they ruin such a good film? With rubber masks that are so lifelike they easily could have had Maguire wear such a realistic Fischer mask, as well as platform shoes to add a few inches to his height, but I bet Maguire insisted, for publicity purposes, that he be shown in his natural face. Ruined the movie, absolutely ruined it for me. No, I've not been drinking... see you later.

What an odd enumeration of possible "broader contexts". I assume that even at 6 your ability to evaluate your grandmother's tone. So, we can presume that her tone was not disapproving. I'd have to know a lot more about granny to go much further, but lets' say she wasn't a college educated liberal. If you were to ask me (and I'm fully aware that you didn't), I'd say that she knew better than the violent sentiment she uttered. I'd guess that she was not just angry, but furious and quite possibly afraid (triggers?). Back in the day and still today, among a great many people, ritual is used to express public respect. I would assume your granny was projecting her expectations that the nation show some respect to RFK's memory. If she happened to be poor, Roman Catholic, African-american or Hispanic, and/or possibly liberal, (and almost certainly a Democrat), then he may have been her candidate, if she was politically engaged. It's funny, I was only vaguely aware of who he was (another Massachusetts "prodigal" Kennedy son) and so I assume few outside of MA were very familiar with him - it was before the DNC, after all, and back then the backroom deals were still going on, so much of the country didn't pay attention till the Party's nominee was picked. Your gm have Massachusetts roots? What she said suggests to me a "spare the rod and spoil the child" attitude towards the soldiers, unforgiving and angry. Was she a stickler for "the right forms"? What I find strange about your list is it appears to avoid what to me is most obviously the case: that she was blowing off steam, and doing so in front of an audience which she thought (should) view her as an authority figure. Kinda like the advice: Don't try to fight city hall. I mean, its probably on the list of good advice that is not politically correct. Taking a soldier, someone's son, brother, husband, father, out and shooting them because they sneezed is a bit of hyperbole. (suggesting that she may have tended to abuse her position...but, mere supposition with minuscule evidence.)

Joseph Stalin is giving a speech to the Army when all of the sudden in the midst of a paticularly moving segment, he hears a loud, uproarious sneeze coming from amongst the crowd. Stalin stops speaking, glares at the soldiers, becomes very visibly annoyed, and says "Who sneezed?..."

All of the soldiers don't say anything, some of them start to sweat and others nervously glance around. After a brief moment Stalin motions towards a few soldiers with him on the stage. "Execute the first row..." he commands, and the soldiers on stage begin opening fire at the first row of troops on the ground.

"I'll ask again, who sneezed?" says Stalin. Another pause, and no one speaks up. Finally Stalin says "Execute the..." but before he can finish, a soldier about 4 rows back raises his hand and says "It was me General Secretary Stalin! I'm the one who sneezed."

Stalin then stares cold and hard at the soldier who spoke up for an uncomfortable amount of time, before he leans towards his microphone and says "Bless you."

My youngest brother was born in August 1976, in Kansas City, in a hospital next to a park filled with yippies protesting the RNC. My dad tried to move me quickly to the hospital from the parking lot. That brief moment was my only experience of the '60s, and is my first political memory.

Yippies were protesting the Republican National Committee? How specific!

I did not then know of the convention, of course. But my brother was born in the middle of August 1976, and the park adjacent to the hospital was full of people that were distinct enough in appearance that they made an impression on a 5 year old.

Well, it sounds extreme but in the ancient past there are cases of that kind of thing actually happening, so perhaps your grandmother was tapping into some kind of archetypal consciousness or something. The most recent case I can think of being prisoners in concentration camps at roll call, forced to stand perfectly motionless for long periods of time or else be killed - But I'm sure there have been more recent examples - I would guess that kind of thing might go in the North Korean military, those guys seem to really like standing in formation.

I seem to recall, from the dim, dim past, something vaguely along these lines in terms of people being harshly punished for not following the rules - ah yes,

Of course, it was posted by Prof. Tabarrok, so no reason to think that you read it, if recent posts are any guide.

I have some vague impression of the assassination coverage being everywhere, so nothing to watch on TV! But the later Viet Nam and space program coverage made more of an impression on me.

I guess the important lesson to be learnt here is to be careful about the things you tell your kids. I sometimes tell things to my kids that are not necessarily true. For instance, we were watching swans and geese in the local canal. I made a point about these two species not particularly liking each other and fighting for who gets to sleep in the tiny wooden houses the city built for them. It was just fun, mostly to add some personality to these animals, and stimulate the imagination of my 5 year-old daughter. This was last week.

Forty years later. My daughter is now a celebrity econ blogger. She uses this story to make a larger point to her readership, who now think her father had fun lying and making up false statements about wildfowl.

I remember JFK being shot. "Dad, was he any good?" "I don't know much about him, but if he was like his father he was vile."

I remember Ike vaguely, and Nixon being defeated in the crooked presidential election. What different days they were in Britain that it was reported that a Dem win was crooked.

LBJ was memorable, mainly for Vietnam, but also for actually looking wicked.

He was an arrogant man, and could behave in an appalling fashion out of sight of the press. He was not, in other respects, like his father. Several of his (11) children are disgusting. However, the only one capable enough to be dangerous appears to be a decent chap, so they've been fortunate.

"are or have been"

My first political memory was Reagan's announcement that America would establish a permanent presence in space. He inspired an entire generation to reach for the stars while seeding a distrust of government that has led us to this self-destructive political moment. Reflection provides clarity.

Wow and look how much we advanced in space since then lool...

America has abandoned space, but other powers charge forward. Brazil intends to send by her own means a satellite to space before the end of next decade. Manned flights are to follow.

Is that the fake Thiago? Certainly doesn't seem like bragging.

How many South American countries do you know that are getting ready to fire satellites at space? How many countries do you know that are doubling their efforts at the space front while Mr Trump threatens NASA for purely political reasons? How many countries do you know that have decided to go to space next decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of its energies and skills, because that challenge is one that it's willing to accept, one it's unwilling to postpone, and one it intends to win, and the others, too?

"seeding a distrust of government that has led us to this self-destructive political moment"

It was exactly the opposite. We trusted Govt too much and learned the truth. Now we found we need to limit Govt the way Reagan wanted to.

There is a very parallel discussion here of state power, strength, and dissent.

I think parsing Trump is at least as hard as parsing Tyler's grandmother.

Perhaps both answer the popular question of 2016: "but what does authoritarianism even mean?"

> ....Watergate, and now this knowledge is worth more than it used to be.

You're obviously referring to the revelations about Obama's massive and illegal surveillance operations against US citizens -- and thank you for bringing it up -- but what Obama did here is much, much worse than anything Nixon ever dreamed of.

+1 My first thought. If Trump wants a legacy, it's the prosecution of these crimes. The President is not above the law.

My first political memory was in the wake of Watergate, hearing my mom say that Bob Dole was a "hatchet man." I told her she couldn't prove it. I was 6 years old in 1976.

Could she?

Of course. The evidence was plain as day for all the world to see. I didn't become politically astute until I turned 7.

It is OK. Some people are late bloomers.

According to Matt Yglesias, Cowen was the first to recognize that Trump makes ridiculous comments not for the truth of the statement but to identify the traitors in his administration: those who don't publicly endorse the ridiculous statement are traitors. It's a technique Trump borrowed from Stalin. Of course, I don't know Cowen's grandmother (indeed, I don't know Cowen), but I wonder who she meant by "they" (as in "they'll line him up and shoot him"). Would it be the Kennedy clan, who would penalize the poor sap who moved an inch for not showing total respect and loyalty to Kennedy? Unlike Stalin (and the Kennedy clan?),Trump doesn't actually shoot traitors, he just sends them into exile. But unlike the Kennedys who had lots of loyalists - close friends, advisers, confidantes - Trump appears to have none - which is why his daughter and son in law are his closest (only?) advisers. I'm reminded of what Al Franken wrote of Senator Cruz: "I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz." Did anyone miss Stalin after he died?

The obvious explanation is that Cowan's grandmother was impressed by the rigid discipline of the honor guard and used a bit of verbal hyperbole to express it.

Interesting to watch

The administration of

A political

Rorschach test.

Politics is like baseball.

My earliest political memory was rooting for the home team. People still root for the political team they or their parents were associated with.

There is a really good course on the demographics and geography of American Politics at Stanford; your politics are related to your family's history and where and when you grew up. Here is the link:

I turned 6 a few months after RFK was assassinated. My memory of the impressions at the time were that he was a Senator, running for the Democratic nomination and was the brother of JFK. At the time, I figured he was shot because of his fame--not because he was a front-runner or because of any political position he had taken. In retrospect, I think I was correct: The killer chose the most famous person he could think of, so that it would bring maximum attention to whatever grievance motivated him.

Only much later in life did I realize that RFK had a really excellent shot at winning the nomination and therefore a very good chance at being president. Which means that the event had more potential significance than I had considered at the time.

Only much later in life did I realize that RFK had a really excellent shot at winning the nomination

He did not. Hubert Humphrey won a 2/3 majority at the Democratic National Convention without entering a single primary. Most delegations were slated in opaque ways, 1/3 of the delegates had been chosen before Kennedy entered the race, and some of the primaries were beauty contests. Eugene McCarthy out-polled Kennedy in the primaries as well. George McGovern served as the parking spot for Kennedy delegates at the convention and received 1/3 of the votes that McCarthy did.

"Hubert Humphrey won a 2/3 majority at the Democratic National Convention without entering a single primary."

This is why many historians and I think Kennedy had a good shot: Most of the delegates were not committed by the primary contests. RFK would have come out of one of the largest states (NY may have still been larger then) and was far more charismatic than Humphrey.

We will, of course, never know if he would have won.

This is why many historians and I think Kennedy had a good shot: Most of the delegates were not committed by the primary contests. RFK would have come out of one of the largest states (NY may have still been larger then) and was far more charismatic than

There was a vigorous strand of opinion unable to abide Bobby Kennedy and the Democratic Party was badly fissured between those who had supported the Administration and the anti-war constituency. Kennedy was pandering to the latter. The anti-war constituency did not have the votes in Chicago. They had the votes in 1972, but it did not matter as the Nixon Administration had already withdrawn 3/4 of the American troop force in Indochina.

That is a terrific point!

RFK's dovishness was premature for the Democrats of 1968. Of course, then he could have gotten the nomination in 72, had he not been killed in 1968.

My earliest political memory was in first or second grade the class voted on who they wanted to be president, Goldwater vs. Johnson. Goldwater won. I remember thinking at the time that the only reason he won was he had "gold" in his name -- we all knew that gold was beautiful and valuable, we could envision ingots of gold.

Water is good too even if it is cheaper.

I am older than the previous commentors. Do you guys trust your memories of early childhood? Mine have added accretions like a boat gathers barnacles due to things that were said to me over the years by parents and sibs. I have very distinct recollections of events that my sister swears never happened, and she has documentation. I was impressed by things and people that with time have diminished in stature. Human memory is imperfect and often reflects the myths about ourselves that we use to fool ourselves because we have to fool ourselves in order to successfully fool others.

Coincidentally was watching The Making of the President 1968 a few weeks ago, the best of the series. The sense of trepidation from Theodore White and others in it was palpable. Something tells me your grandmother was not a soixante-huitard and felt similarly unmoored.

I assume TC meant "instill" in #5, unless we've finally been treated to the real reason he hates booze so much...

My first political memory is also form 1968, I remember Walter Cronkite ("uncle Walter" to my Mom and many others) talking on the TV about how the Tet offensive ("Ted offense") to me had somehow left us mired in Vietnam (I had some awareness of a war in the jungle somewhere far away). I did know that my father, though he was Dad to me, was called "Ted" by others and he was always talking about how bad the "offense" of the New York Giants was, a team that he loved and which he had taken my slightly older brother and me to watch practice at his small suburban Jesuit college campus either before or after hearing uncle Walter. Somehow my father and the Giants were responsible for us being stuck in the mud in the jungle. I guess its not really a political memory as I remembered everyone talking about how "apolitical" (I was proud at learning that word) my father was at faculty dinners before I was sent off to bed. When his school was shut down by the students either before or after hearing uncle Walter, he was the only faculty member they let in. He taught biology and showed up to feed the lab animals, which is something he would take me and my slightly older brother to watch either before or after I heard uncle Walter on the TV. Politics or no, a snake's gotta eat.

First political memory was my parents' receipt of a Christmas Card from Vice President Agnew. I took the card and envelope to school for "show and tell." Second political memory was casting a vote for George McGovern (eschewing President Nixon -by far the class favorite) during a "mock" election in grade school.

Monica Lewinsky and the blue dress

You are a child?!

What a curious almost-mildly provocative post. First props on the effort put into the attempted marketing stunt. Ending a post on a political assassination with "and now this knowledge is worth more than it used to be," although nearly subtle by US academic standards, would really have moved some copy if the Secret Service had taken the bait. And if most people didn't already know in their hearts that one major difference between worshipers in the Cult of Obama and non-believers, is that the latter are more likely to actually love their grandmothers, it might have provoked a little good-for-marketing backlash. Obama, of course, whether due to his notorious racial animus, or to score some cheap ephemeral political point, famously threw the lovely grandmother who raised him under the bus as a racist. Emulating his idol, or maybe as part of a ritual among Church of Obama fanatics, tosses his own grandmother under the bus as an authoritarian. I suspect any copies that this little display Tyler hoped might move, would already have been bought by his co-religionists. I must express gratitude for the post, however, as it prompted me to remember my own grandmother, adding a bittersweet element as I also remembered Britain, listening to Benjamin Britten symphonies, doing an 8 hour haul today,

How is telling the (presumed) truth about someone "throwing them under the bus"? A lot of people of a certain age held racist notions. My father could not endure actual racist talk let alone behavior, yet being born in 1923 he occasionally let the "N" word slip since in his youth it was a rude vulgarism but not the hate-obscenity it is now.
There, did I just throw my father under the bus? I don't think so, I just related an interesting fact about him, one whose moral is not "Whites are all evil bigots" but rather "Life is complicated".

No political memory until feeling sad watching Jimmy Carter concede. Even today, I avoid speeches by losing political candidates.

What strikes me, in our hyper-political climate, is how my family never once discussed politics. This was the 70s. Maybe in the 60s it would have been unavoidable, and to be sure we didn't talk much generally.

I didn't even know my parents' political affiliation. It wasn't important to them to impress that on me.

Grandparents my occasionally let slip improper remarks. I remember my grandmother, annoyed by someone's actions in traffic, muttering under her breath, "He's blacker than the ace of spades." I knew there was no difference in virtue between her and my parents - or if anything, she would come out ahead - so this was my introduction to a generational shift in speech and attitude. I felt the shift was the more valuable if it had made slightly-worse people (my spoiled, fifties-teenager parents) behave better in at least one respect than their elders.

My father was very political-- he was a "dyed in the wool" Republican, but of the Eisenhower subspecies that is now nearly extinct. My first political memory at age 7 is of his outrage over Nixon being forced from office for doing "what all those SOBs do."

I was born in the last year of the Truman presidency. My earliest political memory is watching president Eisenhower talking on TV. I had no idea that he had been the Allied Supreme Commander during WWII. I don't think I was even aware of WWII. I remember asking a friend in school, "Is he for us?" He was just an authoritative talking head in black and white. Most of my political awareness came through TV. Our family watched the very short Huntley & Brinkley report nightly. I loved the closing theme: the second movement of Beethoven's fifth symphony. I never stopped loving Beethoven.

I, too, was six when RFK was shot. I have a vague memory of my mother crying, and asking her what was wrong. She didn't give me a name, that I remember, only that a great man had been shot. I figured it was the president, and the only president I knew of was Andrew Jackson. I don't know why I knew Andrew Jackson. But in any event, for a good six-eight years, my memory was "Mom cried when Andrew Jackson was shot." Not that I ever thought it consciously, just that's how it was stored. Anyway, sometime around the age of 15, when that memory came around, I was like "wait. That can't be right." So I went through all the assassinations, figured out it must be RFK (who my mother adored, while being unmoved by his big brother), and updated the memory accurately.

I really didn't follow politics at all until after graduating from college, although I did vote in the 1980 election, when I was 18. Shortly after RFK was shot, my family went way, way overseas, where there was no TV or telephones. I had no idea my parents were Democrats, or what a Democrat or Republican was, until I was 18 or older.

The assassination of RFK is also my first political memory. For some reason I woke up very early that morning and turned on my transistor radio. As I was listening I heard something about Kennedy being shot. My Dad, an early riser came in my room and I told him that Kennedy had been shot. He said that was a long time ago. It took me a while to convince him it was another Kennedy. We turned on the tv and saw the replay of someone asking again and again "is there a doctor in the house?".
I went to school and was wondering all day how RFK was and whether he would live, and was very sad when he died. On Saturday they had his funeral, which I thought was very bleak and depressing. I didn't think it was fair that it preempted all the Saturday morning cartoons. I was 8 years old and I had my priorities.

That reminds me of an episode with my father: As a teen, I was rebellious toward my parents and not a good student. One day in some context my father said "You should not go to college because you are not a good student. You should get a job."
I replied. "I am moving out and not coming back and so it will be no cost to you. It won't cost you anything." (BTW and so it was. I moved out and did not even return in the summer as I found work near the school)
He replied "It will cost me tax money (it was a state school)."

So I used to tell that story like he was so harsh and his goal was really to get me to not go to college, but most likely he was just trying to motivate his lazy and rebellious son, and succeeding.

Now on the other hand I think we often try to motivate our children so we can brag about whet they accomplish. (like otherwise, why do I know about so many accomplishments of friend's children.)

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