Gloria Hay and Margot Lubensky are election volunteers who have been in the campaign circuit for a combined total of nearly 100 years.
They can recall monumental political events as if they happened yesterday: Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, Harry Truman’s triumphant grin as he held a newspaper that read “Dewey Beats Truman” and Richard Nixon’s notorious “I am not a crook” speech.
Both are retired college professors who share similar vocal tones — a curious mixture sounding both cheerful and tired. They spend their free time answering phones, handing out yard signs and chatting with people about the way elections used to be done and the way they should be done now.
There is but one major difference between the two women. Hay is a Republican; Lubensky is a Democrat.
“I do believe that if it’s important to you to have a government of the people, by the people, for the people, and you are one of the people, you ought to work a little bit toward good government,” Hay said.
Every Monday morning, Hay arrives at the Republican Party Headquarters at Providence Road and Nifong Boulevard to greet people as they come in, to hand out pamphlets and bumper stickers or to vacuum the place when needed. Recently, when a confused patron cautiously stuck her head in the door and said, “Is this the Democratic headquarters?” Hay said, “Goodness no, dear. But come in anyway and have a cookie.”
Hay has been involved in politics ever since her father let her sit on his lap during meetings for the Roosevelt campaign, as long as she didn’t interrupt. Since then, she’s volunteered during the Ronald Reagan campaign in a group called “Educators for Reagan,” which she chaired at the University of Wisconsin. Her most memorable election moment was when she drank beer and ate bratwursts at a Madison bar while watching Reagan sweep the East on election night.
“I’m not motivated for every election,” Hay said. “I would say the importance of the leadership at a given time is what would motivate me to give a lot of time and energy to a candidate. Certainly when I go backwards, I knew there was no question the election of Harry Truman had real significance because it dealt with ending the war, with securing the peace to whatever extend we could.”
“Now I’m working for George W. Bush because the matter of the terrorist invasion in New York has made this a very important election, and I think President Bush has a better grasp on the extent of danger terrorists are to our civilians and how to fight that,” she said. “There are some leaders who are so inept that I would actually like to work to defeat them. I would put Lyndon Johnson in that category. I had the same feeling about Jimmy Carter.”
A few miles away at the Democratic Party Headquarters, Lubensky tidies up a stack of Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers sitting among rows of buttons and brochures. Her most memorable election moment was attending Johnson’s inauguration with her late husband and two children.
The former Stephens College instructor worked for the Harry Truman campaign and remembers fondly when Truman visited Columbia and how much he enjoyed speaking with the students.
Over the years, she and her husband, Earl, have chaired the Boone County Democratic Headquarters and participated in several state election campaigns.
“Motivation comes from what you hear about candidates running for office,” Lubensky said. “It’s very important who wins elections because of principles they stand for and issues they believe in. The issues that mean a lot to me are issues about the environment, and as far as I’m concerned, health care for everyone is a very important issue. We’re in a state of high unemployment, and jobs are very important. Most of the young people going out into the workforce and the people who have lost their jobs are on shaky ground right now.”
Hay and Lubensky said campaigns have changed significantly over the years.
“Transportation has made a big difference,” Lubensky said. “You can hop around from place to place in your own plane and cover several places in one day. There’s been a huge increase in the methods and manners in which we communicate. You have your computers, your e-mail, your Web; you have different types of telephone systems; you have, of course, television, which at one time didn’t exist.”
Both women said that the increase in mass communication in recent elections has brought an increase in negativity.
“This election is meaner somehow,” Hay said. “There is just so much said that makes me want to cringe. The only thing I can remember from many, many past elections as being in the same class as this was back in the Lyndon Johnson/Barry Goldwater election. It’s that famous TV ad where the little girl has the daisy and then there’s the big atomic explosion, and the whole world was blasted away. It was the subliminal idea that Barry Goldwater will blow up your world, and certainly your darling little children. That was quite a questionable ad. But I think that today it is less civil than it was even then.”