To my “leftie” friends…

My politics have generally moved left since I wore an “I Like Ike” button in the run-up to the presidential election of 1952. We’d just moved from Minnesota to Southern California, and my family in both places and the military families of many of my California schoolmates liked Ike.

My mother, who voted Republican but was more interested in her church, was my first political tutor. She was insistent on “justice,” whether it was the fair treatment of the missionized Africans that we learned about in church or the sibling squabbles in our house. She had some problems with Catholics (did they really “worship” Mary?), and Mormons (were they a latter-day cult?), but in California we actually met and knew Catholics and Mormons, and I think her strong belief that we are all God’s children turned her. She held on to her Lutheranism, but grew more generous to people who looked and believed differently, eventually growing fond of a Turkish Moslem I once roomed with.

I graduated high school in 1960 and soon got John Kennedy’s message that doing for the country was more important than the country doing for me. My best high school friend went to Mississippi to register voters in 1963. Later that year, when Kennedy was assassinated, a couple of college friends quit school to join the Peace Corps. In 1965, with civil rights movements in full swing and Vietnam a rising glimmer, I joined the Peace Corps, and spent most of the next five years in Turkey.

***

One of the first people I met when I moved to Wallowa County in 1971 was Gardner Locke, who had gone from the WW II Marine Corps in the Pacific to the Hanford nuclear plant, and then moved to Joseph, where he ranched and taught. Gardner and Tappy had us to dinner to talk about the Peace Corps soon after we arrived, and shortly after that, in a window of time when the Peace Corps accepted volunteer families, they were off to Ecuador. Back in Joseph, Gardner was the anchor as an unlikely group of skiing friends put together the run at Fergi.

Gardner once told me that I had never left the Peace Corps. I took it as the biggest compliment I’d ever had, and told him that he’d been in the Peace Corps before it was invented.

But as Gardner and I and many others—Democrats and Republicans, Catholics and agnostics—in this small place built ski runs, reclaimed ties with Nez Perce people with the Homeland Project, formed a board and friends group to build and equip a “doctor’s house” for OHSU residents and, eventually, a new hospital, and grew a slew of non-profits—Wallowa Resources, Building Healthy Families, Safe Harbors, Fishtrap, Divide Camp, the Josephy Center, etc.—and gave succor to community building Lions, Soroptimist, 4-H, granges, and Rotary, my lefty cohorts in cities and suburbs borrowed an alternative strategy from the right—radical individualism.

It might have started with Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and Barry Goldwater’s call for a robust individualistic economics, Ronald Reagan’s “government is the problem,” and Milton Friedman’s free market approach to everything, but it was certainly fueled by the “do your own thing” of the 70s left. Soon a shared right-left theory claimed that if we each followed our bliss—lived our dreams on the left or made as much money as we could on the right—the world would be a better place. Community got lost.

Hollywood made fun of it with “greed is good,” but left and right both kept pushing it. The economic winners on the right have used their power to appoint judges and curtail voting rights of old black and Native communities and the growing Latinix population, and to make sure that wealth continues to create more wealth and is easily moved to the next generation. Winners on the left have often focused on environmental issues, laudable actions for the general public, but especially dear to sailors, skiers, and high-end eco-tourists. Health care gets crushed in the left-right squeeze, and an almost free public education system is buried. Now winners on left and right send their kids into the expensive higher education system with high tuition payments—and even bribes.

In Portland, my liberal friends have decided that policies that would encourage denser neighborhoods and help solve a housing crisis might hurt property values. Lefty and righty NIMBYs have found their ways into environmentalism and corrections!

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