It took some soul-searching for Gary Bachman to support Hillary Clinton for president.
He didn’t like her when the campaign began. And he repeated that point to himself enough times that he began to question why he felt that way. To the point that he even grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper to list the reasons.
He couldn’t come up with anything.
“My mind says, ‘I don’t like this person,’ but I’m realizing that part of what I don’t like about her is this ideal that’s been sold to me that I don’t like Hillary Clinton,” he says. “You hear that over and over and over again, and you begin to believe it without understanding what it’s all about. And if you recognize that, and you go and you try to look for the basis of that feeling, you find the facts are different from what you understood. That’s been an interesting experience.”
Bachman is a 64-year-old associate professor of social work at Park University and a fifth-generation Kansan. The Overland Park resident has fond childhood memories of riding horses with his father from the stockyards to the 500 block of Central Avenue, dining with cowboys who had emigrated from Eastern Europe.
In recounting his political autobiography, he details a long history of questioning his own beliefs. He traces it back to his first few weeks of college at Kansas State in 1970.
Bachman went to school on the GI Bill. He was considered a “war orphan” because his father died as a result of injuries sustained years earlier in World War II. Standing in line to enroll at K-State alongside young vets only months removed from tours in Vietnam helped him empathize with soldiers.
“K-State was a fairly safe place to be a veteran, but there still was a fairly significant anti-war movement,” Bachman says.
What really galvanized his political and professional identity was a campus visit by President Richard Nixon a few weeks after he enrolled. Bachman said it was little more than a pep rally, but it turned ugly.
Nixon started off talking about football and basketball and whether a purple tie given him by Sen. Robert Dole matched his suit. But soon after, some members of the audience shouted “What about the war?” and other members shouted them down. Bachman says he remembers thinking how vicious it was. Especially when he saw one of the protesters break down in tears, repeating over and over, “They just don’t understand. They just don’t understand.”
“I asked myself, ‘What don’t we understand?’ ” Bachman says. “There’s a part of me that’s pissed off — they’re interrupting the president. But what don’t we understand? That is the piece that opened this liberal mind. I didn’t want to understand a little bit of it. I wanted to understand all of it.”
Despite labeling himself as liberal, he has never been a straight-ticket voter. He never liked Bill Clinton. He has voted for Republicans, even served the GOP locally. But he also campaigned hard for Barack Obama.
“I believed in Barack Obama as much as I can believe in any president.”
His support for Clinton comes down to qualifications.
“Hillary is the most qualified that we’ve ever had out there,” he says. “More qualified than Barack Obama. More qualified than George W., by a long shot. More qualified than her husband was. George the first? He was probably pretty qualified. Ronald Reagan? Give me a break.”
He still has reservations. It bothers him some that she’s part of an establishment and a political process that he despises.
“Her biggest weakness is her historical ties to a good-ole-boy network,” he says. “I recognize that to run for president in the United States you cannot do it without those connections. That does not mean I have to like it.”
But when he thinks of some of the election-year rancor that has resurfaced during this campaign, he calls back a childhood memory. His mom supported Nixon and his dad supported John F. Kennedy. They had a party on election night with elephant and mule trinkets and election-themed tablecloths and bottle openers.
“I distinctly remember my father and some of his friends standing in the living room, screaming at each other, then breaking into laughter, patting each other on the backs and going to get another drink,” he says.
His point: This has been a difficult election, and regardless of who wins, we’re going to have to go on as neighbors.
“We’re going to have to forgive each other for the sometimes stupid things we’ve said to one another,” he says. “And in fairness, that is what I love about this country. We are the United States. We are united sometimes by our differences, and our differences make us stronger.”