My beloved father grew up in Queens, New York in the 1930′s. He often compared our “soft” life growing up in sunny San Jose, California in the late 1970′s to his own. Dad, of course, walked three miles barefoot in the snow everyday to get to school, even though he only lived a mile from St. Matthias Parish.
While I inherited dad’s Irish penchant for hyperbole, I don’t need this patrimony to paint a picture of life in the Age of the Carter Misery Index. We didn’t trudge to school in the snow, but we often sat for an hour in the back seat of our station wagon (rear-facing with no seat-belts!) for our turn to buy gas. Once in a while we mixed up the day and had to leave without because it wasn’t “our day” to buy gas. Really kids, that did happen. In San Jose…California…in the United States. Of America. You ask what disaster had struck, necessitating gas rations? Hurricane Carter. And I don’t mean Rubin Hurricane Carter, who was anything but a disaster.
I was only thirteen, but I squirmed with real shame each night when we tuned in to watch, Jimmy “This-Time-I-Really-Really- Mean-It-Send-Our-Hostages-Home” Carter mark yet another day our hostages were guests of the Islamic Paradise of Iran. I remember wondering why the President couldn’t do something to get the hostages home. I knew something was very wrong with Americans waiting to buy gas like people in Russian bread lines.
We had seen enough World War II movies to know that the US had recently helped save the world from Nazis. My father had spent five sea-sick days on a ship with other Americans sailing off to Korea to free the world from Communism. I knew that Americans were not supposed to be “pretty-pleasing” stone-age radicals while worrying if the week’s supply of gas was going to be siphoned by thieves.
Then it happened. In the middle of the sheer dreariness of it all, Ronald Reagan threw his cowboy hat into the ring and ran for President. Democrats laughed at him and the Good Old Boys Club (GOP) insisted he was stupid and too conservative to win. With a group of fellow political junkies, I listened to one speech, and we all knew that Ronald Reagan was going to be the next President.
We began wearing huge, “This is Reagan Country” buttons to school and started hanging out with the Young Republicans at Bellarmine Prep. The feeling that our country was headed for ruin was replaced by the atmosphere of, “It’s Morning in America.” On the debate team we began arguing the merits of ”Reaganomics” and making bets about how long after the election the Ayatollah would mail our Hostages home. (The Answer? Well, on Inauguration Day, we flipped back and forth between stations so we could watch both the post swearing-in coverage and the Hostages arriving home at last. And, I kid you not, Barry Manilow’s I Made it Through the Rain played sappily on CBS, as the victims, whom the now-terrified Iranians couldn’t jettison fast enough, wept in the arms of their loved ones.)
For Americans old enough to remember rear-facing, seat-beltless station wagons, the atmosphere is now unbearably reminiscent of the Carter years. President Obama and his merry band of Alinskyites have, even worse than a decimated economy, strewn about them an emotional debris-field of pessimism.
And yet, 1980 is coming. Not because conservatives are anticipating our version of “The One.” Reagan didn’t restore the country by saying, ”Yes, we can.” His message was far more American. He simply said, ”Yes, You Can.” We loved him, but we were primarily inspired by his faith in the principles and practices that had made America great in the first place. He was so sure that these constitutive elements would fix every problem, and this certitude was contagious. Reagan was gloriously optimistic, but not about himself. He wanted to be President because he knew no other candidate shared his confidence in America and in Americans. Reagan insisted that, if we were simply untethered from neo-Socialist collectivism, and left to free-market entrepreneurship, industry, and pursuit of excellence, we would again experience American exceptionalism in every domain of life.
If I am so deeply convinced that Sarah Palin will be this generation’s 1980, it is not because I believe “Sarah will save us!” but because she appears to share Reagan’s confidence in the power of America’s essence. She has no personal ideology, only her mentor’s repudiation of neo-Marxist class warfare and a desire to eliminate intrusive government.
I’m getting my This Is Reagan Country buttons out and ready. It’s still 1978, but not for long. We’ll have to put up with the Democrats calling our candidate stupid and the GOP telling us Sarah can’t win. But 1980 is right around the corner and soon this generation's Barry will be singing at the airport while we, the American Hostages, are set free.
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