I came into my political cognizance in the years of Jimmy Carter.
The election of 1976 was the first where my 13-year-old brain was more or less engaged. As an eighth grade Michigander, I was a natural Jerry Ford fan. He was a skier,–our family skied. He ate at Granny’s Kitchen in Grand Rapids, I’d eaten at Granny’s Kitchen in Grand Rapids. His slow, plonking manner reminded me a lot of my dad, and the fathers’ of many of my friends, all of whom hung out at the Lions Club. The politics in the race, of course, were a complete mystery to me– but I sure identified with all the superficial, cotton-candy stuff on the surface.
Ford was from Michigan, and that was good enough for me.
And the election was on.
What is interesting, in retrospect, is how exciting the convention coverage was that year. I say “interesting“, mostly because we could only tune in two or three channels on our TV, and so, you watched what was on– and a political convention was as good as anything.
Good grief: Remember “tuning in” a TV channel? It’s difficult to recall, here in these years of touch-screens in your pocket, that you were obliged at whiles to get out of your chair and dial in the aerial, or whip the rabbit ears around. Now, we have everything from “Spike” TV (-which I think used to be the Nashville Network) to the Shoelace Channel. But, during the Bicentennial Election Year, we had Channel 6 (which was CBS), Channel 10 (which was NBC) and, if the weather was right, Channel 12 (which was ABC).
In those days, they went wall-to-wall with the convention TV coverage for the better part of a week, and (unlike the Watergate Hearings, which were also televised, and which seemed to a kid like me to drone on and on for years), the conventions were actually fun to watch, if for no other reason that they interspersed interviews with entertainers, had funny little cartoons, and the strangenheimers with their odd costumes on the convention floor were fun to watch.
But I didn’t get it: Who was this old Reagan guy? What’s he got to do with President Ford? Oh, well, it really didn’t matter much, because the Democrats nominated this Georgia Governor named Jimmy Carter, who (-again, to an eighth-grader) seemed like a neat kinda guy: His smile was huge, and he sure looked a lot like John Walton.
Ah, yes, 1976: You have to remember what a huge hit The Waltons were on TV back then.
Also, there was this itchy back-to-the-earth patina in the culture. Euell Gibbons– the elfin wild Asparagus-eating fellow (even though he’d died the year before) was hawking Grape Nuts cereal (“many parts are edible!”), John Denver was crooning on about thanking God he was a Country Boy, and The Waltons had become destination television on Thursday nights on Channel 6 –, er, CBS.
John Walton was the patriarch of the Walton clan, and he forever berated his wife Olivia for going to church while he hung out in his flannel shirts and dungarees in the woods staring at sunbeams and seeing God in the elderberries and skunks. John Walton was played by Ralph Waite (a notorious lib, as it turns out), and the flannel shirts and The Dry Look hairsprayed coif made him look like Jimmy Carter. And Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer– and, boy, did that melt right into the Country Boy theme oozing around the culture.
To this day, I am convinced that Jimmy Carter won the election of 1976 because he looked like John Walton. So, (again, in my eighth-grade mind), I wasn’t all that disappointed when Carter won: It marked a definite end of the 1960’s, and all the Nixon and violent hippie crap. And Carter seemed so, so, simple; so Euell Gibbons, so down-to-earth, so… John Walton.
At first, President Carter seemed like nice enough guy; the sort of fellow you might bump into at the hardware store. His family was a bit over-present (Miss Lillian? Ruth Carter Stapleton? Billy? Amy?). But, like I say, it was all very Waltons-esque.
And then came Bert Lance, and it was pretty clear that Carter had the same bunch of crooks surrounding him that every politician did. The smile got annoying pretty quickly, too. And watching Carter on television was painful because the guy never moved his dour lips when he talked.
Pretty soon, it seemed like we were up to our eyeballs in “crisis”. The “Energy Crisis”, the “Inflation Crisis”, the “Middle East Crisis” the “Three Mile Island Crisis”, the “Iranian Hostage Crisis” . Eventually, we even had a “Crisis of Confidence”. Clearly, even to a now-Tenth Grader, I could see President Carter was just thrashing around from one “crisis” to the next– and eventually blamed it all on us…
I remember one of his proposals was something he called a “windfall profits tax” on oil. Ah, yes, the old bogyman of “profits”. The left never changes it’s narrative, does it? The barrel price of oil had skyrocketed in Carter’s presidency. At the time (when I was still reading “Mad” magazine, mind you) this “Tax” made sense, in much the same way that today, crapping in plastic bags and leaving it in bank lobbies makes sense to the Occupy Wall Street crowd– only I was 15, not 37.
I told my dad that the Windfall Profits Tax seemed like a cool idea because it was going to fund research into solar power, wind turbines (-the 70’s versions of windmills looked like egg beaters, by the way) and finally converting over to the metric system (we in America were so parochial, you see, still using standard measures, and we’d been studying metrics since first grade). My dad said a Windfall Profits Tax would just increase the cost of gas, and it was a bunch of crap.
By then, the world was pretty much falling down around Jimmy Carter’s ears. Having squarely placed his foreign policy on the firm quicksand of “Human Rights” (lots of human rights in El Salvador, none in the Soviet Union), the Occupy Tehran crowd got a little restive, and toppled a heretofore staunch ally in the Shah– and when the sick old Sovereign landed on American soil for cancer treatment, the kids stormed the American embassy in Iran, and took 52 Americans hostage. Later on, while fishing on the set of Deliverance, Carter was assaulted by a rogue bunny rabbit. But, unlike the students at the Tehran embassy, he was able to successfully repel the bunny attacker.
My brother was traveling out West at the time, skiing at Bozeman and Jackson Hole (which was still a ski-bum hangout in those years, not the sort of place Jane Fonda would have been caught dead in), and, upon his return, was shocked to note that gasoline, when he started his trip, was 48-cents per gallon, but, in the span of a week, had gone up to 68-cents per gallon. A Hostess Fruit Pie, that may have cost 35-cents one week, cost 50-cents the next. Inflation was on fire, and, because of Carter’s insane production and price controls on energy, long lines formed outside gas stations. It was not unusual to keep a gas can in your car in case all the gas stations ran out. There was talk of rationing, and, in some states, depending on your license plate number, you could only purchase gas on certain days.
People on fixed incomes (especially in California) were driven from their homes by the twin pincers of astronomical inflation, and skyrocketing property taxes. Then, the Soviets invade Afghanistan, and all Jimmy could do was wag an upset finger in their direction– and boycott the 1980 summer Olympics. Oooh. Scary. If you looked up the word “weak” in a dictionary in those years, you would find Jimmy’s picture. It was a disaster.
The unemployment rate, which, when Jimmy took office hovered in the mid 5% range, shot into the high 6’s and hovered in the low 7’s for most of 1980. Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had shut down a reactor during refueling, and experienced a partial core-meltdown in early 1979. Mount Saint Helens exploded in the spring of 1980, and it seemed the very earth wanted to vomit the Carter years into history.
We were on edge. In Michigan, the automobile industry sank into a depression, and hundreds of thousands of autoworkers were laid off. The construction of new homes ground to a halt as customers and lendable capital disappeared. Gas lines wound around entire city blocks, and small skirmishes were breaking out at some filling stations. Brezhnev-era Russia was on the march. Communists were popping up in the form of Maurice Bishop in Grenada, in El Salvador, Nicaragua and around the globe in one dusty hell-hole after another. Carter, although gibbering on about “human rights” found nothing wrong in such expansionism. But most folks simply saw it as “weak”.
As I say, one crisis begot another, until, on July 19th, 1979 Jimmy emerged from a near-religious cloistering at Camp David with all the High Priest and Priestesses of Doom, and pronounced the American people over-indulged to the point of not having any purpose. Jimmy scolded us:
The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
Yeah, well, speak for yourself, loser. The only real growing doubt was in Carter’s ability to effectively lead a great nation, and stop acting like some constipated country preacher. Instead, we were gnawing all the old bones of resentments, setbacks, and funk. There was a pall over the land that cannot be described, unless you lived through it.
Kinda like today.
And then, this old Reagan guy re-emerged. And, man he was OLD. I remember having the Opinion pages of the Detroit Free Press spread out across the floor of my bedroom, reading their little burps about the various GOP primary candidates. Of course, years later, I would realize that such commentary was really what the leftists thought about each Republican candidate, not a factual dissertation on the qualifications of each. I well remember the photo of John Anderson, a House Rep from Illinois –who looked like you might imagine a character from Central Casting might have looked when they were shooting a film about the race: Big shock of well-styled silver hair, big stylish glasses, straight teeth. Then, the picture of Reagan showed this guy with the turkey-neck, and the hair that looked like it had been combed with buttered toast. Who’d vote for that old geezer?
–And then I saw a news report of the Republican debate in New Hampshire, in which Reagan wanted to make an opening comment, and the moderator refused to let Reagan speak, and ordered his microphone turned off. Reagan stood up, and showing vigorous displeasure, said, “Mr. Green, I am paying for this microphone!”, and I thought, “Good grief. Here’s a guy that’s doesn’t take any crap. Right now, all we’ve got is a President that deals in crap…” On that day, I became a supporter of Ronald Reagan, and my whole world-view began falling into place.
It was a glorious evening then, in November of 1980, watching Dan Rather (who took over the CBS anchor chair only weeks before from the iconic lefty Walter Cronkite) announce that a veritable Reagan Landslide was taking place, and that venerable old Democrat scrooges like Frank Church, Birch Bayh and George McGovern were going down in flames. At only 8:30 that early evening the weak and demoralized Carter slouched out onstage to announce he’d congratulated Governor Reagan on his victory– and the polls had even closed west of the Rocky Mountains.
I had the enormous pleasure –four years later– of voting for the first time in a Presidential Election for Ronald Reagan against the odious Walter Mondale. By 1984, America was basking in the glow of a wondrous economic renaissance. I’d started my own commercial sign business, and it was humming along. Business started, incubated, sprouted and grew in Reagan’s America. I know. I was there.
And here, all these many years later, under the stultifying cloud of Barack Obama, nothing feels more like 1979 that it does right now. Folks are clearly miserable, at each others throats, protesting things –the contours of which they can’t even define. We are again having a crisis of confidence.. in our leaders.
Yeah, yeah. Rick Perry is a verbal stumblebum that has some stupid rock turned over in a field in Texas somewhere that I’m supposed to be all upset about. Herman Cain is a supposed robber of Women’s Virtue. Michele Bachmann is some sort of Cruella DeVille that thinks children’s vaccinations are a conspiracy dropped from black helicopters. Newt is a serial divorcer, who stuffs Tiffany diamonds in his shorts. Mitt Romney is a closet Marxist. Rick Santorum is a vile old scold.
Not a Reagan in the bunch.
But, it wasn’t so much that Reagan was Reagan (although that was a big part of it). It’s that Carter was Carter. If Reagan had followed his treads in the White House behind some other strong, articulate conservative, his greatness would not have been seen in such stark relief. Part of his iconic Presidency is that Reagan followed such an abject failure.
Barack Obama is an unmitigated disaster. I would go so far as to say his is the benchmark Presidency for fecklessness, lawlessness and ineffectiveness in the long annals of our nation, and this is tempered only by his stubborn, disastrous ideology.
During Carter’s years in the 1970’s, skirmishes broke out over 50-cent gas that spiked to 70-cent gas. The rate of unemployment was 7.5%. Inflation was clipping along at 15%– but, back then, they counted such things as energy and food in the matrix, which they don’t today. America was the laughing stock of the world. And the President was being beaten up by bunny rabbits.
Today, we supposedly accept the gallon price of gasoline as being far north of $3. We are told we are ho-humming the tune of 15% real unemployment. It is reported we don’t notice that a bag of carrots that cost $2 last spring now costs $4. And we are all in love with Barack Obama’s iron-fisted, top-down, authoritarian and despotic seizure of the American health-care system. No, the story-line goes, Barack Obama already has 240 electoral votes sewn up because the GOP can’t find their Reagan. All they’ve got is a bunch of crazy womanizing, racist, hysterical, weirdos.
We’re not supposed to notice one thing, though:
The Democrats have their Carter.