Analysis of the ’80s Rambler

The ‘80s was The Rambler’s most prolific decade by far. One could argue about whether the ‘80s was the most interesting decade in American history, but it’s certainly the most interesting decade in Rambler history.


There wasn’t as much coverage of AIDS as I expected or hoped for. However, the few articles about the subject offer fascinating insights into the point of view of people living through that public health crisis. The 1985 article “AIDS: Isolation or Education” focused on the issue of whether a child with AIDS should be allowed to attend school with other children. At the time, the CDC recommended letting kids with AIDS into schools. The science was clear that AIDS was spread through the exchange of bodily fluids, not casual contact, and yet parents were still scared and even paranoid. Asked to weigh in, Bush’s Headmaster Les Larsen said, “It’s best to be cautious,” offering a wishy-washy position. As the writer of the article editorialized, “He believed that, due to the rambunctiousness of lower school students, many precautions would have to be taken” (that is to say, quarantines).

The piece “AIDS Moves In,” from a 1988 Rambler, digs into a different facet of the AIDS epidemic. The piece centered on the controversy sparked by the announcement that AIDS Housing of Washington planned to build a new facility in the business district of Madison Valley. The paper interviewed residents on both sides of the issue–those who supported the building of the facility, and those who worried the facility would hurt business in the area. One business owner aptly summarized the hesitant but not overtly bigoted attitude of business owners: “If I was to take a reading of the business people here, I think they would agree that a facility is needed, just not here” (emphasis mine). The paper also talked to eight students, who were randomly chosen. They were asked if the facility would affect how or whether they shopped in that area. According to the author, “Most agreed with Ted Young, who said ‘No I don’t have problems shopping near AIDS victims; I’m not paranoid.’ However, Sarah Collum was not sure because she said, ‘I don’t want to get AIDS.’” Overall, the piece, just like “AIDS: Isolation or Education” highlights perspectives on AIDS victims that were neither overtly bigoted nor overtly supportive.

The 1988 election:

The coverage of the 1988 presidential election was fascinating. There were pieces profiling the candidates, and practically a sub-genre of pieces about people’s experiences at caucuses, either as delegates or as observers. The piece “A Night at the Caucuses” consisted of excerpts of students’ writing about the caucus (all Upper School students were required to go to a precinct caucus). Overall, the responses, short as they are, are a fascinating window into the experiences of kids on the cusp of political awareness. The responses range from funny to insightful. One student wrote, “I wondered where everyone was. I mean, I thought this was a big deal. We are dealing with the president here.” Another student, brutally honest, wrote, “I walk into a room filled with confusion. There are people floating around the room with no idea where to go and I am one of these people.” Others commented on the political and ideological dynamics of the caucus, particularly the moderate versus progressive divide. For instance, one student wrote, “Person after person said the same thing for [Jesse] Jackson but didn’t put him down because they thought they were the only one for Jackson.”

The piece “Delegate Spurned by Rainbow” detailed a student’s experience as a Jackson delegate–an experience he found disappointing and at times frustrating, although his piece is humorous. The student, Michael Lawson, quickly became skeptical at the delegate preparation meeting about the optimism of the county chair, who insisted that Jackson would win the Pennsylvania primary (he didn’t). Perhaps the most interesting moment of the piece, though, comes when Lawson goes from wryly observing what’s going on around him to actually participating in it. When he dared to ask the county chair what to say at the caucus if someone brought up Jackson’s anti-semitic remarks, he was, well, spurned: “The room became incredibly silent and then I knew my future as an honored Jackson delegate was waning.” The county chair finally gave him a blunt, indignant answer: “As far as your question about anti-semitism, I am a Jew, and I am proud to support Jesse Jackson. The hymie-town incident happened a long time ago. The rainbow coalition is for everyone. DOES THAT ANSWER YOUR QUESTION?” While the use of all-caps is humorous, the piece stands the test of time as an ambivalent examination of the pitfalls of party politics, and of the embarrassments faced by those trying to engage in politics for the first time. 

The Cold War:

The Cold War was a conflict that shadowed the eighties, composed of many sub-conflicts and proxy conflicts around the world. The Rambler’s coverage, ranging from impassioned op-eds to sober news reports, tackled everything from the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics (“Heck No We Won’t Go”) to the buildup of nuclear weapons (“Bourgeois Awakens to Nuclear Threat”). In 1983, The Rambler ran a whole collection of articles about U.S. foreign policy, bundled under the ambivalent title “U.S. in foreign countries?” It began with the article “Risky business in Nicaragua,” which decried the U.S.’s funding of the right-wing contras in Nicaragua and support of the Somozas, a family dictatorship. As the author succinctly puts it, “The U.S. State Department has claimed that it wants to see peace in Central America. Yet it seems that no other outside power is doing more than the U.S. to promote unrest in Nicaragua.” 

Contrastly, “U.S.: Right moves” takes a much more sanguine attitude towards America’s aggressively anti-communist foreign policy. According to the author, the invasion of Grenada, a Caribbean island then ruled by a Marxist government and militarily supported by the Soviet Union, was necessary in order to prevent the island from becoming “another Cuba.” America’s reputation and credibility was also at stake: “Our country has shaken off the “paper tiger” image that we earned by only verbally attacking the Soviet Union.” Other articles from this issue criticize the presence of U.S. troops in Lebanon and the jingoistic attitudes of many Americans. Overall, “U.S. in foreign countries?” is an in-depth snapshot of America’s various foreign entanglements in 1983. 

Perhaps the most surprising article about the Cold War comes from the 1985 Rambler. “Impressions of the Soviet Union,” ostensibly about a school trip to Russia, is a jarring defense of the U.S.S.R and a call for more compassion and humility on the part of Americans. Of spending a night in Leningrad, a famously gorgeous city, student Colin Green writes, “By that evening, I fully realized (I thought) that the Soviet Union is harmless—it’s just a country of very proud people struggling to get by just like everybody else.” Traumatized by its immense death toll in WWII, the USSR doesn’t want another war, and supposedly “the military buildup on their part is out of the horrible fear of another invasion.”

Green goes even farther than just asserting that the U.S.S.R. isn’t as much of a threat as Americans fear; he also believes that Russian patriotism is, in its own way, just as legitimate as the American kind. Unlike Americans, Russians are not “wage slaves” ever striving for more wealth, material goods, status, and a higher spot in the corporate ladder, he writes. Americans were steeped in anti-U.S.S.R. media, and yet Green’s trip to Russia imbued him with an unorthodox perspective: “I found that the spirit of the USSR was one of real commitment to their motherland, and a true desire to improve it, to rebound from its destruction by the fascists. By contrast, they consider America to be a land of crime, racism, unemployment, corrupt monopolies, and selfishness with regard to other peoples. All of this is true, and it stands out because it doesn’t exist in Russia: there is no crime or racism or unemployment.” This baffling sentiment is evidence of how profoundly out of sync with popular attitudes “Impressions of the Soviet Union” is—and just how boundary-pushing The Rambler was in the ’80s. 

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