In November, my father voted for Barack Obama. If you knew my father (Bernie Smith, retired doctor, lives in Naples, usually clad in Tommy Bahama gear), you’d realize how truly stunning that is. Bernie has only voted for two Democrats in his lifetime—John F. Kennedy, because he was an Irish Catholic from Boston, as was my father; and Lyndon B. Johnson, only because he thought Barry Goldwater was “crazy.”
My father voted for Richard Nixon (twice), Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (twice), George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush (once).
Yes, it was George W. Bush who turned Bernie away from the Dark Side. My father was never a huge fan of the governor of Texas—having supported John McCain during the Republican primary in 2000—but he was conservative, and my dad’s conservative.
Much to my father’s chagrin, however, he had unwittingly raised three Democrats. During family gatherings, the topic would always turn to politics (usually because I would say, “Now, let’s turn to politics!”), and my sisters and I would ask Bernie about his views on candidates, issues, giving allowances to grown women, etc.
After 9/11, Bernie assured us that if Bush invaded Iraq, he wouldn’t vote for him again. On Christmas 2003, we decided to hold him to it, reminding him that he had promised not to vote for Bush and that he should vote for John Kerry instead. Instead, he abstained from voting in 2004.
In the interest of fact checking, I called Bernie, who had just finished up his golf game (and probably settling in to watch the Weather Channel before happy hour).
“Dad, I’m writing this story about lifelong Republicans who voted for Obama.”
“Dad, you’re not an Independent.”
“I’m registered Independent, I just always vote Republican.”
I went on to ask him why he didn’t vote for Bush for reelection. He said he was convinced, along with everyone else, that Bush was going to go to war, it was the wrong war, and Saddam Hussein wasn’t the one who attacked us. “The war clouds were coming in, I realized that he was going to invade Iraq no matter what, whether or not they found WMDs,” he said, in between sips of his martini.
So why couldn’t he bring himself to vote for Kerry? “Oh, Kerry, he looked like he should’ve been a member of the First Continental Congress, so patrician. I just really didn’t like him. I can’t tell you why. Something about the old Yankees who always marry rich.” And this, coming from a fellow New Englander who still can’t pronounce his r’s.
Moving on to the 2008 election, what made you notice Obama? “Oh, I noticed him when he first threw his hat in the ring,” he said, adding that he had read The Audacity of Hope . “I never really considered any of the Republicans.”
(Sidebar: I could have sworn that he liked Mitt Romney in the beginning but I’ll let it slide.)
“I liked the way Obama was thinking, how cool he was under pressure,” Bernie continued. “He was the only one I saw in the primary who really always kept his cool, never blew it, versus someone like McCain, who blew it all the time.
“I couldn’t have voted for McCain. He wasn’t the sharp McCain of 2000 that was against Bush. I think he had slipped. He was too old. When you saw McCain and Obama together, one was cool and intelligent and was thoughtful about his answers before he said them. McCain looked like he was about to blow up.”
Finally, I asked him the million-dollar question. What if Hillary had won the Democratic nomination?
Here’s what he said: “I would’ve voted for her.”
My father hated Bill Clinton (although he begrudgingly admits that he liked the economy under Clinton). He certainly never liked Hillary. And yet, he would have voted for her over John McCain.
In the end, my dear Republican father was happy to cast his vote for Barack Obama. When it comes to political persuasions, never say never.