February 13, 2008

A Question For People A Little Older Than I

Is the guy on the left selling the same stuff today that the guy on the right was selling thirty-two years ago?

I wasn't really cognizant of politics back in 1976. I knew that "the President" was an important man and I knew that a lot of people were talking about politics and the government, and that people were happy that it was the bicentennial, which I learned was a word that meant "two hundred years old." So I don't remember what it was about Jimmy Carter that caught fire and propelled him to the Democratic Party's nomination and, given the prevailing political conditions of that year, inevitably to the Presidency. I know (now) that he tactically figured out how to game the Iowa caucuses before anyone else had ever done so and that really helped his candidacy, which was at the time a very clever political move. So clearly the guy had some ability, and despite Watergate and the bitter aftertaste of Vietnam, Carter only won by 3% of the popular vote and 57 electoral votes -- not a decisive victory.

Reading back over discussions of the race that year, I have to think that he was pitching honesty, transparency in government, racial unity, a "different kind of politics" from what Nixon had brought, and a healing process after a morally and strategically ambiguous war. Is that right? Is that the stuff that Carter was selling? If so, why should we think that Obama can deliver on that promise in the way that Carter could not?

7 comments:

Michael Reynolds said...

It's not an entirely inapt analogy. On the surface you're right. But having been there in 1976, and having cast a vote for Jimmy -- my second presidential vote, my second regret -- I don't think the emotion is the same.

For all the melodrama over Mr. Bush, the country is not traumatized the way it was in 1976. People voting in 76 had been through civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, the environmental movement, the 60's, drugs, Vietnam, riots, soldiers in the streets of American cities, Kent State, the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK, the 68 Chicago convention riots, and because that wasn't quite enough, Watergate. And by the way we were one drunken Russian away from the obliteration of the human race.

Frankly, we were a bit stressed.

Jimmy seemed harmless but honest. I think we were all looking forward to some peace and quiet with the toothy peanut farmer.

Obama comes into a very different situation. The key to Obama's support is not widespread social trauma, but disgust with the way our political system is working. It's not even an anti-Bush vote as much as it's an anti-Rove vote. I think we're all just sick of being cynical. Americans are idealists. We need occasionally to return to that, and only Obama is offering us that opportunity.

Arnie said...

I have to agree with Mr. Reynolds' sentiments. Capturing the heart is more what running successfully for the presidency is about this year. I would only add anti-Cheney to anti-Rove, as most people don't believe GW could have dreamed this stuff up all by himself.

zzi said...

Carter was a governor well removed from Washington, and an officer in the Navy. Obama is a senator from Washington and a politician from Chicago. Talk about insider. Also Reagan heavily campaign for Ford.

bucyrus said...

Ford pardoned Nixon, who the whole country was embarassed about. Then along comes this plain spoken and pious southerner who projected country integrity.

Like Michael says, your analogy to Obama isn't utterly inapt. But Carter was a very different vibe. He didn't have a huge cultlike following of positive change junkies. No one was saying Jimmy Carter was an inspiring and electric positive visionary.

If anything, Carter was a little bit on the morose side.

Burt Likko said...

Well, I'm glad I'm not UTTERLY inept.

zzi said...

How about humorously inept ...

Michael Reynolds said...

Inapt, dude. You are never inept.