"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Carter somehow seems refreshing now

The ex-president who once talked about "lust in his heart" is in the news. Jimmy Carter seems like a refreshing figure now. It's neat to see an ex-president who has been out of office as long as Carter has, so physically sound (his recent hospital visit for a viral infection notwithstanding) and articulate. It looks like he could almost handle a campaign again.
In a sense he has been doing just that, working vigorously for the betterment of humanity without holding political office.
Candor is another huge strong suit of his. You can tell he's fiercely proud of his efforts to try to push through universal health care for Americans in the 1970s. He asserts this in a manner that steps on political toes (the toes of the deceased i.e. Ted Kennedy).
The "lust" quote was one of several exhibits from his campaign or presidency that would be quite the Internet fodder today.
He talked about how people wanted to maintain "ethnic purity" in their neighborhoods. Such a quote would be like honey for a bear in today's cable news environment.
He told of the rabbit that projected terror when it swam toward him when he was in a boat in a swamp. Reporters weren't quite sure what kind of follow-up questions to ask on that. I remember a friend of mine interpreting the reporters' behavior, saying it was just deference to the president.
"Well, he's the president."
So the story is legitimate! I think Joy Behar of HLN would get some mileage from this today.
"Lust in my heart" was spoken during his rise to the presidency. It came in a Playboy interview.
The "lust" offering seems like a pretty small potatoes quote now, in the age of the Christine O'Donnell candidacy for the U.S. Senate. After following O'Donnell's candidacy for a few days, nothing about Carter could possibly strike one as oddball. Witchcraft and mice bred with human brains? Carter's rabbit seems like "the good old days."
I'd even take a dose of disco music with it. A "Laverne and Shirley" TV episode? Maybe not.
Getting 13 percent on my bank CDs was nice too, but had this economic environment persisted, it would truly have been bad news. But today, with negligible interest? Seems like pretty bad news too, to someone who avoids risk investments and uses banks (me).
We voted for Jimmy Carter because Gerald Ford - RIP - hadn't done enough to sweep away the residue of Watergate and some other unpleasant stuff. Whatever Carter lacked, he had his hands clean. And we were quite convinced he wasn't the back room wheeler-dealer, that he had a sound grasp of basic morals.
The economy tanked but it might have tanked anyway.
We tend to forget this now, but life was much slower-paced and less "caffeinated." Americans tended to think of Wall Street as sort of a land of Oz, an isolated sector where the rich among us could sort of "play around" with money.
Wall Street could never have been sold as a lifeline for average Americans and their retirement.
Democrats had a very firm place in the political firmament. "Liberal media bias" was a real thing, whereas today's conservatives are chasing shadows with that assertion, trying to paint themselves as underdogs again, which they clearly aren't.
Those were the days of paternalistic and rather complacent media institutions. The hard edge of Fox News would have been anathema to them. There was a restrained benevolence. The conservative ideology could take care of itself.
We knew Democrats had excesses and probably weren't vigilant enough chasing down waste. But we felt they stood for common people vs. the well-heeled Republicans.
We voted for Republicans only when the excesses began seeming too onerous.
Republicans in many places had to fight to escape the margins.
There was a Republican candidate for governor in Minnesota with the last name "Johnson" who got thumped, and in the aftermath a pundit complimented him in a humorous way by saying that his Scandinavian name was the key for him beating the Communist Party candidate.
Wendell Anderson and his Minnesota Miracle had their high water mark. Redistributionist thinking wasn't really drastic at the time. Today it seems to be viewed as incendiary by many.
Unless the worm is about to turn. The polls are starting to smile on Minnesota Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. Dayton's campaign rings of populism.
Republicans in the 1970s could have worn Darth Vader costumes on most college campuses. Even through all this, Americans, even college students, had a vague suspicion that it wasn't working (i.e. the Democratic agenda). In 1980 we had "morning in America" with Ronald Reagan's election.
We might forget that Reagan made a strong bid to win the Republican nomination in 1976. We can wonder what might have been if Reagan had wrested that nomination from Gerald Ford, who had developed that "caretaker" image as president.
I remember watching coverage of that 1976 Republican convention and shaking my head at people wearing Gerald Ford hats, standing on their chairs and clapping as their candidate inched forward, and thinking: "You're gonna lose (to the Dems), guys."
Ford was a father figure who oozed sincerity but he didn't have the firepower to defeat the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia. Carter could seize on the "change" argument after so much bad stuff under Republican presidents.
I probably wouldn't have voted for Reagan in 1976 had he gotten the nod. I was in the midst of my college years and voting Republican just seemed unpalatable in the environment that surrounded me.
Looking back, I'm intrigued at the "what might have been" if Reagan slipped past Ford and went on to confront Carter. The Republicans might have been wise to roll the dice with committed conservative and proven executive Reagan, to see if America was truly ready for a president of his stripes.
Was it "morning" yet? Or was 1980 ordained as the magic year to do a fresh and sympathetic assessment of conservatism?
We probably weren't quite ready in '76. It was the year of the Bicentennial. We got Jimmy Carter who I believe picked up much of his momentum from the state of Iowa. Amazing how we have allowed Iowa to wield so much clout in our national politics due to its early-bird caucuses. A musical has even been written about it.
Someone once said of the 1970s that anything that could go wrong, did. In my mind the height of that was when our helicopters broke down for a rescue mission for the hostages in Iran. Or when the Comet Kohoutek was supposed to light up the night sky as if it were daytime. And then it was a dud.
Our band director at Morris High School at the time, John Woell, joked about how he was from "the land of Kohoutek." The flop supplied jokes for Johnny Carson.
And so did that guy of the Grape Nuts commercials. My friend Ken Hamrum says Euell Gibbons was the iconic figure of the 1970s, you know, the author turned cereal pitchman who was an expert on eating wild things. The commercials reportedly had to be pulled because kids were going outside and looking for things to eat. The Three Stooges had to stop the eye pokes for the same reason.
At the apex of Carter's political career he had to butt heads with Ted Kennedy of the dynastic Kennedy clan - "America's royalty."
In the Internet universe of today, someone like Kennedy with his baggage (Chappaquiddick) couldn't even consider running. That accident which "Teddy" mishandled (aside from the sheer tragedy of it) was a millstone around his neck anyway, deservedly so.
Misadventures from your past cannot be tucked into obscurity today.
Carter is butting heads with Kennedy even with Kennedy now in his grave. Recently Carter shot into the headlines with a statement blaming Kennedy for the failure of the push toward universal health care. Carter saw it as nothing more than self-serving politics.
Kennedy didn't want to see Carter get credit for such a huge accomplishment, the way Carter tells it now.
I would argue that Republicans could have helped a little more. But here's a fundamental lesson about American politics: Republicans never show the initiative for broad-based government entitlement programs, even when the necessity for such things becomes obvious.
It's a little game: Republicans always throw up obstacles, as with the recent health care measure, and then they just sort of shrug and go along with the new order once it's established. It's always tortuous watching Chris Matthews of MSNBC asking a Republican "would you have voted for (such-and-such)?" Finally a "yes" will trickle out, but look for those crossed fingers behind the back.
Here's a quote from Carter: "Republicans are men of narrow vision, who are afraid of the future."
Yes, Republicans are contrarians and believe me, there are times when we need this.
God bless Jimmy Carter but I'm glad Reagan was elected in 1980. Reagan infused some positive things although we have put on blinders to a certain degree and have come to see those "things," such as a totally unfettered free market (although in reality it isn't - witness TARP) as sort of an elixir that will keep lifting us up.
We are imperfect human beings who are sometimes short-sighted, quick-fix oriented and simplistic. Wall Street seemed our friend for a while but it's hardly so today.
"Trickle down" is becoming a harder sell, although the Michelle Bachmanns of the world still seem to have firm standing with the electorate. I'm waiting for that proverbial worm to turn further.
A Carter type of Democrat could come along again, someone not worshipping at Wall Street's altar and who stresses transcendent human values. ("What's that?")
Maybe this is why it's so refreshing seeing Jimmy Carter again, someone who sought to be uplifting without repeating the free market/lower taxes mantra ad nauseum.
People without money will always outnumber people who do. This is why Republicans ought to feel like they're whistling through the graveyard. Why Glenn Beck might be vilified as he deserves to be. Why Fox News might get pushed to the margin as the contrived, crazed propaganda machine that it obviously is.
And I'd love to see a vicious rabbit go swimming after Beck sometime.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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