Ronald Reagan Library
Dateline — Wednesday, Nov. 5, 1980, Charlottesville, Va.
Mom and Dad had seen enough.
At some point during the evening of Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980, my parents happily went to bed knowing that their guy, Ronald Reagan, was going to be elected the next president of the United States.
Me? The night had just begun. I was determined to stay up until it was official.
Sure, NBC had declared the Gipper the winner sometime around 8 p.m. Eastern Time, but polls were still open out west and President Jimmy Carter would not concede until shortly after midnight.
Finally, with the outcome no longer in question, I went into my parents’ room and jumped on their bed.
“We won! We won! Ronald Reagan is president!”
My dad rolled over and smiled. “We know, we know,” then he offered a quick explanation of how they could know such a thing before polls were closed and before Carter had even conceded.
Then he added, “Now, quit jumping on my bed.”
That was eight elections, four presidents and a whole mess of politics ago.
Not surprisingly, that 9-year-old bed-jumper went on to become a political junkie. And by political junkie, I mean psychologically dependent on the magic of “Crossfire” and “The McLaughlin Group.”
Through the years, I learned a lot about government, politics and the people who make it all work. I learned that my first hero was more special and unique than I could have known that night in 1980. I also learned that he wasn’t a perfect president, but he sure was a hopeful one who inspired my family to believe that it really was “morning in America again.”
By the time I eased out of public policy to focus on writing fulltime, I was ready for a break. Partly because both my schedule and carry-on luggage couldn’t hold any more, but also because I hadn’t run into any presidential candidates who really make me want to jump on the bed.
Don’t be mistaken — I’ve hardly gone “cold turkey.” Televisions and computers in the Wright house still flip wildly from source to source on election nights. I can still carry on a wonkish conversation about the battle for the Senate in 2014. My kids all know who John Boehner and Harry Reid are. They might even have heard an opinion or two about them over dinner.
My oldest son is just a few months older than I was on that exhilarating night in 1980. Now, with the 2016 race revving up with a slew of polls already hitting the streets, I wonder if anyone will emerge who inspires childlike bed jumping.
As the candidates declare and campaign, will it be clear to my kids who stands for what? Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter stood at opposite ends of the political spectrum and everyone knew it. They explained what they believed as clearly and articulately as they could.
Sadly, I suspect my kids will need to dig a little deeper than I did in order to decide who represents the America they want to live in.
When they do pick a side, are they going to imagine a group of patriots working to lead a great nation in the right direction?
Will someone give a speech that lines up with the idea of America that is being formed in their little noggins?
Is anything that happens during a debate or convention between now and November 2016 going to matter enough to push past the latest Disney movie or Wii game?
I would love to have a moment like my parents did. I’d gladly go to bed early, confident the people I believe in and trust are going to have a chance to lead the country.
I would even welcome a bouncy midnight wake-up call with a couple of giddy kids yelling, “We won! We won!”
But even if the next few election nights don’t all go their way, I hope my children always remember how blessed they are to live in a country where they have the freedom to discuss and complain, to hope and argue and, ultimately, to vote.
More than anything, I hope a courageous, inspiring candidate emerges who makes my kids want to jump on my bed at midnight.
I can’t wait to join them.
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and his latest, "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, applevalleybarndance.com or jasonfwright.com
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