My father died 21 years ago. In the last 17 years of his life, we never talked politics. It was a subject we’d previously discussed many times, especially after my years in the national media living in Washington D.C. But after the mid 1970’s, not once in his remaining 17 years.

Dad owned a small business in Bend, Oregon, was active in his church, the Elks and Masonic bodies. A solid citizen. Well-respected. Moderate Republican most of his life. Good, solid Oregon stock. He was serious about things political and, while not an ardent follower of the subject, felt everyone should at least be knowledgeable enough to cast an informed vote.

But after the downfall of Richard Nixon, Dad would never talk politics again. With anyone. He died never having heard the foul-mouth, anti-Semitic ravings on the Nixon tapes. He never saw the David Frost interview in which Nixon admitted breaking laws but claimed, if it was done by presidents, it wasn’t law breaking. As with most of the rest of us in the mid-70’s, his judgment of Nixon at that time was based simply on the evidence presented in the congressional hearings. Conclusive enough to force Nixon to resign.

A lot of us had already written Nixon off as the crook and repeated liar he’d vehemently denied being. But Dad’s anger and disappointment went deeper. All his life, he had believed – as many Americans his age had – in the honesty supposedly represented by the presidency, in the image of a nation’s pride symbolized by the White House and in our national inherent “goodness” as a principled leader in the world. Dad was a rock-solid Republican of the old school who believed the best of his country. For him, Nixon ended that.

I’ve thought of Dad and all this in recent months. While being more involved in things political than he was I, too, find it harder to discuss the subject seriously. With anyone. Like him, I’m angry, disappointed and more than a little ashamed of the meltdown of our political system. The lies. The trash talk. The self-serving zealots. The personal attacks. The unprincipled use of hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to redesign the very structure of our country. And with the U.S. Supreme Court’s official blessing.

As each new presidential “candidate” dives into the pool, I wait for the message of hope, of ideas, of visions and the new national course each would set. I wait. And wait. And wait. Because they aren’t coming.

Instead, we’re being treated to the same old bashing of the current administration, the same platitudes of “mom, apple pie and the flag,” the same code words to appeal to a narrow ideological base, the same lack of what any particular candidate would do. Words unaccompanied by sufficient specifics to attract my support.

It’s certainly acceptable practice to criticize whatever party or individual represents the opposition. Acceptable and expected. But a legitimate candidacy can’t be based simply on criticism. It can’t just flail away at what is without offering ideas of what the candidate would do to make it what he/she thinks it should be.

As a voter not entirely endorsing what the present administration offers, I haven’t heard a single proposal for anything new or better to make me want to offer my single ballot in support of a change. Constant, unbridled criticism is not the basis for a successful run for office.

As a nation, we’re nervous. All of us. Economically, politically, socially and in just about every other way, we’re in a time of extreme flux. Our lives seem under attack, portions of the institutional system have failed and technology has swept aside many conditions with which we were more comfortable. A lot of careers are being lost, home values depreciated, investments or other savings eroded. And all because of conditions seemingly beyond our personal control. We are a nation of individuals looking for the stability we used to know. Which makes us vulnerable to hucksters who promise change without defining that change and how it would be accomplished.

As I listen to one presidential “candidate” after another come forward with only empty rhetoric and scripted criticism, I often think of my Dad. The shame of Richard Nixon, the lies, the hubris and Nixon’s corrosive affect on the presidency forever altered what Dad saw as a major symbol of this country – of all he’d believed. After Watergate, he never looked at American political institutions with the complete trust his generation was taught to have. Naive? Maybe. But that’s how it used to be.

Older now, I listen to the Romneys, Pawlentys, Bachmanns, Palins, Pauls, Cains and others of their ilk. I hear no promise. I hear no vision. I hear no reassurance that any of them have answers to our national problems.

Do you?

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