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Commentary: Happy Warrior


How many people do you know who really love politics? I don’t necessarily mean those politically active or intense about the issues. I know lots of people like that, conservative and liberal. But I don’t sense that many of them are having a good time.

In fact, many seem to be motivated more by their loathing of their opponents and their ideas than by anything positive. But the other day, I visited a man who lives on an anonymous street in an ordinary Ann Arbor neighborhood who happily loves, just loves the Democratic Party, and has what may be the nation’s greatest and most attractive collection of political artifacts.

Essentially, he owns his own private museum, which he calls “The Democratic Archive,” and the other day, I was lucky enough to get a tour. A dozen years ago, his wife Mary got tired of his campaign stuff cluttering up the house, so she built him a separate building.

A huge, two-story building in which he has his collection displayed. We aren’t talking about a few lawn signs and bumper stickers here, though Kelley has thousands of those. We are talking about sometimes wall-size posters and statues and rare items from every campaign back to seventeen ninety-six. There are letters, T-shirts, primitive art, fine art representing every Democratic Presidential nominee there’s ever been. Winners get prominent display, but there is also a Wall of Losers. Mike Dukakis and John Kerry, here is your shrine. But there also giant posters of now-forgotten men like John W. Davis and Al Smith.

Two Republicans ARE prominently on view here. One is Abraham Lincoln, who Doug Kelley has decided to make an honorary Democrat, and Richard Nixon, who was always his own best parody. There’s an enormous poster of Tricky Dick, looking sneaky and devious, and a slogan that says, simply. “Would you buy a used car from this man?” There’s an even wickeder one of a very pregnant and disgusted looking woman, wearing a button that was the candidate’s winning nineteen-sixty-eight slogan, “Nixon’s the One.”

Perhaps the most intriguing item in the archive isn’t a partisan creation at all, but an actual voting booth from Palm Beach Florida in the year 2000, complete with the infamous “Butterfly Ballot” and blank punch cards ready to produce hanging chads.

Ironically, all this started because Kelley’s father, a good Republican, lost his state job when the Democrats came to power during the New Deal. The family moved to Chicago, where Doug managed to become a page at the nineteen-forty-four Democratic National Convention. He came home with an armful of stuff, and never looked back. Two years later, he had the chance to meet and work with his all-time favorite Democrat -- Eleanor Roosevelt.

He’s been loyal ever since. He loves to share his museum, but only with people he knows are honest -- and really able to appreciate its significance. Doug Kelley is 83 now, and knows he doesn’t have too many more campaigns left.

Recently he gave about 200 Thomas Jefferson items to the first Democratic President’s museum at Monticello, and is thinking about other donations. Personally, I wish the Democrats would buy the whole building, and put it on display for the world.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.