While allowing opinions to clash – in a civil and restrained way – on my Hot Buttons Issues Forum on this web site, I’ve tried to keep politics out of my “Messages from Dan” over the years. The last message even touching on politics was in my Nov. –Dec. 2006 Message from Dan in which I discussed my experience of working for the Robert F. Kennedy candidacy in 1968. I also discussed the pros and cons of “charisma” in politics, and I ended that 2006 Message with this:
But, truth be told, I’m not that optimistic. We are a great country and an unselfish country and a compassionate country – at least when we’re at our best – but neither the electorate nor its politicians in recent years and decades have chosen to be at their best very often. All in all, things were lousier for America in the 1960’s – more racist, more violent, more confused -- but perhaps some aspect of ourselves as a people was healthier then. It’s possible, given our system for choosing presidents these days in which mediocrity excels, that no great and uniting leader will appear again in any of our lifetimes.
And yet . . .
And yet . . .
A political operative I have a lot of respect for recently said that the most important thing going for the next serious candidate for president in this country is that he or she must have very little baggage. The electorate, especially the huge moderate center, is sick unto death of all the leaky baggage being hauled around and dumped in our faces. Some contenders leading in party polls right now, such as a certain unnamed junior senator from New York, remind me of the Victorian explorer Isabella Bird who traveled the world with 29 steamer trunks.
There is an equally unnamed young and callow (but charismatic and seemingly thoughtful and compassionate) senator from Illinois, I’m told, who – in my favorite political operative’s phrase – “doesn’t even have a carry-on bag to his name.”
The next two years should be – as the old Chinese curse goes – very interesting.
I was referring, of course, to Illinois’s newly elected junior senator Barack Obama, and I had been interested in Obama since I saw him give his stirring “We’re not a red country; we’re not a blue country; we’re a red-white-and-blue country . . .” speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I’d been predicting since 2005 that Obama, despite his lack of experience and almost empty resumé, could and would be a powerful candidate in the 2008 Democratic primaries. It wasn’t just “lack of baggage” – it was a return, I thought, of that Kennedy-esque charisma that had been lacking in American politics since the murders of JFK and RFK.
On my General Discussion Forum on 2008's Election Day, I posted this on 11/04/08 at 4:37 p.m.:
Congratulations to all of the long-time sincere supporters of Senator Obama -- now President-elect Obama. Thank you to all of you on this forum who've maintained a spirited but dignified level of discussion.
Congratulations to all of us for being part of this free and peaceful transfer of power in the world's oldest and strongest free nation.
It is a powerful and historic day. Thank you to everyone who shared this long campaign and this historic election with me here.
Congratulations to President-elect Obama and to everything his candidacy and election represents for himself and our country.
-- Dan Simmons
We obviously all wished the new president well then. I’d joined my wife and grown daughter in voting for Obama in 2008. Why – despite my deep reservations about what I considered his far-left political outlook and lack of a deep enough resumé for the presidency, especially in such tough times, combined with my stated reservations about succumbing to the siren song of “charisma” – why had I voted for Barack Obama in 2008?
Obama’s race was part of the answer. Not all of it, but part of it.
If this sounds racist, then you didn’t grow up in the United States in the 1950’s and ‘60s the way I did. You didn’t travel “down South” with your little brother and mother and uncle when you were 13 as I did to see where they’d lived for a few years as kids – during the Depression – in Greenville, Alabama, and you didn’t’ see the segregated drinking fountains, segregated restrooms, segregated swimming pools, segregated seating areas in bus stations, and even segregated and clearly marked White and Colored windows at their local “Dairy Creme” imitation of the real Dairy Queens my kid brother and I knew “up North”.
You and your little brother didn’t whine in the car coming home until the adults stopped at an “Amazing Cavern” somewhere in Alabama, where the grownups had lunch while you and your anxious 9-yr-old brother went with a local teenaged boy to tour the caverns. Between his memorized spiel, the boy asked us questions in a southern dialect so thick that my little brother literally hid behind me -- neither of us could understand half of what he was saying – but the gist seemed to be – “Y’all really go to school with niggers up there?” and “Y’all really eat at the same table with niggers up there?” The teenaged boy seemed both deeply curious and deeply disgusted with us as he asked these questions. My brother Wayne and I just wanted the damned cave tour to be over.
And then there were the Civil Rights marches and outrages throughout the 1960’s. If you didn’t experience those as a conscious entity, then you don’t and can’t understand the profound . . . relief . . . that Barack Obama’s serious 2008 candidacy brought to millions of us in the Baby Boomer generation. Many of us literally had never thought we’d live long enough to see the day when even a seemingly qualified African-American man or woman could be elected President of the United States. It was a profound and moving experience to realize that such a moment had actually arrived in our lifetime.
Obama’s race had to be a factor for those of us who had lived through – and participated in – the great and disturbing Civil Rights Era. And it was.
Being a Democrat:
Going to college from 1966-70 as I did, it’s not too surprising that when I started to vote (the voting age was 21 in those days) it was as a Democrat. (Even before I was old enough to vote, I was working for the campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and then Robert F. Kennedy. I was only 20 in 1968 so although I’d worked on Democratic campaigns, I couldn’t even vote for Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon that November.)
But I wasn’t a Democrat for decades because it had been intellectually trendy to be so in the 1960’s. My father – a deeply disciplined and conservative man in many ways (he’d dropped out of school in 7th grade) – almost never talked about politics, but by the time I went to college I knew that Dad had “hated” only two men in public life: Herbert Hoover for being so insensitive to the suffering at the beginning of the Depression and Douglas MacArthur for, under Hoover’s orders, attacking the camped-out-in-Washington “Bonus Army” made up of Depression-era WWI vets demanding the government payments and bonuses that the government had promised them during and after their military service. On July 28, 1932, the so-called Bonus Marchers or “Bonus Army” ( called that because they’d called themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” when they’d come to Washington in the spring to ask for help) -- all American citizens and veterans, many of the men camping on public property with their wives and children in a hobo-village of tin-and-cardboard sheds in Washington, D.C., -- were “dispersed” by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, upon order of the President, with the use of cavalry, infantry, and a unit of six tanks (commanded by Major George S. Patton).
After a cavalry charge against the unarmed marchers, Gen. MacArthur ordered a gas attack against the men and women – using “adamsite gas” developed during the Great War, an arsenic-based vomiting agent – and then sent his troops in, wearing gas masks and showing bare bayonets. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River to their largest encampment, “Hooverville”, and MacArthur was ordered to stop his attack, but he pressed on after them anyway, since the general felt that the “Bonus Army” veterans and their families constituted the threat of Communist uprising against the government.
In the end, 135 men were arrested, two were shot dead, a veteran’s wife miscarried, and a 12-week old baby boy died from the effects of the gas attacks. MacArthur never apologized for his attack on the Bonus Army, but one of his aides at the time, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, had urged his boss not to lead the attack against American civilians. “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there," Eisenhower said later. "I told him it was no place for the Chief of Staff."
The upshot was that my very conservative father became, as did so many millions of other poor Americans during and after the Depression, a Roosevelt Democrat. (The first time he voted Republican was for ex-Gen. Eisenhower in 1952.)
I didn’t grow up with a middle-class family’s view of politics; my family was poor. Even by today’s relativistic standards, my family was far below the poverty line during all my years of childhood and adolescence. (I became the first member of my family ever to go to college, and that happened thanks only to college loans, grants, and lots of hard work in summers and during the school years.)
In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, the Democrats weren’t always on the side of the angels – especially not the remnant of Southern-Democrat “Dixiecrat” states-rights racists – but they certainly represented the hopes of minorities, the poor, and the scrabbling middle-class more than did the Republicans. The caricature of Republicans as being the local “restricted country-club set” wasn’t a cartoon caricature during my early years: it reflected reality, especially in the smaller rural towns and suburbs where I lived. Being a Republican more often than not reflected wanting to keep the status quo – including, perhaps especially, in terms of ignoring or actively opposing civil rights changes that were stirring – while being a Democrat represented change not only toward a more equitable society, but a far more just one.
With the dying years of the Vietnam War mixed in, anyone with any social conscience at all in the mid- and late-1960’s seemed to have little choice but to vote for – and in my case, work for – the better Democratic candidates.
In 1972, I got to cast my first vote in a presidential election for South Dakota Sen. George McGovern. McGovern showed me how Democrats could shoot themselves in both feet, their heart, and their head with one bullet.
McGovern offered amnesty to all young American men who’d fled to Canada to avoid the draft, offered to leave Vietnam immediately if the North Vietnamese would pretty please give our POW’s back, and offered every American family a bribe of $1,000 if he he were elected. Then came the 1972 Democratic National Convention where – due to the candidate’s timidity, lack of control, and his “paying off favors” to scores of nobody speakers who all ignored their time limits – McGovern’s actual “Come Home America” acceptance speech was broadcast live at 3 a.m.. I stayed up to see it. I think about 34 other Americans did as well.
McGovern chose little-known Missouri senator Thomas Eagleton as his vice-presidential running mate, but the McGovern people made almost no effort to vet him before the selection. Soon after the choice, the press released that Eagleton had received electroshock treatments in the 1960’s for repeated bouts of severe depression. In those Bad Old Days, before the pro-Insane People Lobby had done its work, most voters were a bit nervous about someone with such a background being one heartbeat away from becoming the Man Who Can Blow Up The World Ten Times Over.
McGovern announced boldly that he stood behind Eagleton “1000%”! (I’ve borrowed that phrase a few times since then, but no one gets it any longer.) A few days later he dumped him from the ticket. (Even Eagleton’s former psychiatrist advised McGovern to get rid of him.) Then there came the spectacle of George chasing his would-be veep replacements around the country and five of his top choices turning him down. (None of them wanted a free ticket on the Titanic’s maiden voyage.) Finally he settled on former Peace Corps director and kinda-sorta Kennedy-family connection Sargent Shriver.
McGovern managed to lose his own state – South Dakota – to Richard Nixon in the second largest landslide in American history. (In the end, “Amnesty, Abortion, and Acid” McGovern won a total of 2 electoral votes – 2! – in Democrat-dependable Massachusetts.)
Which leads, of course, to the obvious question – For this schmuck Richard Nixon risked everything with his 1972 election-time Watergate caper, dirty tricks team, and cover-up??
The Carter Clusterboink:
In 1976, I finally got to vote for a winning Democratic presidential candidate – Jimmy Carter. (Even winning Democrats turned out to be losers.)
Carter, a peanut-farmer and former Invisible Man governor of Georgia, had won the nomination by moving to Iowa for two years and winning its caucus. Up to 1976, the “Iowa Caucus” had about as much importance and press coverage as the South Weehawk and Tri-County Best Lipsticked Pig Contest. But Jimmy parlayed that early . . . ah, victory . . . into grabbing his party’s nomination.
It helped win him the general election when, during a presidential debate, his opponent Gerald “38 Years in Congress and Never Made an Enemy” Ford – Nixon’s personal pick since he (Nixon) believed that he’d never be impeached if Gerald Ford were VP – accidentally opined that “I don’t consider Eastern Europe as being under the Soviet sphere of influence.” Somehow, for all his hundreds of presidential intelligence briefings, Ford had missed the thousands of Soviet tanks and planes and millions of Russian troops and Soviet apparatchiks that had been parked there since 1945.
I remember coming home for lunch on Inauguration Day in January or 1977 – I taught 6th grade just a block from my home in Colorado – and Karen telling me that she’d watched the Inaugural Parade and that Carter and his wife Rosalynn had gotten out of the presidential limousine and walked part of the parade route, waving to the enthusiastic crowds. Karen had thought that was cool – especially after the embattled-paranoid era of Richard Nixon and Watergate. So did I.
That was the last thing I found cool about Jimmy Carter.
Carter’s four years was a cascade of presidential hesitation, blaming the American people for his problems, micromanaging (down to scheduling the White House tennis courts) but never getting a grip on problems, projecting weakness and vacillation, failing to address a deepening recession and soul-shattering inflation, whining about but never dealing with the OPEC gas shut-off that led to long lines at gas stations, the same stations closed on Sundays (we were trying to get home to Colorado from Buffalo, NY), and a quadrupling of prices in a few weeks, followed by the Iran Hostage Crisis that totally flummoxed Carter.
“Inflation” is a word that we don’t hear too often anymore and it doesn’t seem to strike fear into the hearts of young people entering the workforce, but for those of us on a very modest and fixed income during the Carter years – say a teacher and his wife – Carter’s inflation, rising at 10.4% per year – denied us the chance to put away savings or buy a house and ate into what little advances I’d made in salary over the previous years. To show that he was on top of things, Carter gave his “malaise speech” (in which he never used the word ‘malaise’, but blaming the American people for their problems), turned down the heat in the White House – and made a show of wearing layers of heavy sweaters whenever he made a televised address from there – and made it policy to have all the lights of the White House turned off the instant people left a room.
That sure fixed things.
When Leonid Brezhnev’s-commanded Soviet invasion of Afghanistan occurred in December of 1979, Jimmy Carter stated that he’d felt “personally betrayed” and boldly cancelled America’s participation in the 1980 Summer Olympics. It was the pure presidential equivalent of “throwing a snit”. And just as effective.
But what ripped it for me re: Jimmy Carter was the Iran Hostage Crisis.
On Nov. 4, 1979 – just a year before Carter’s chance for reelection – Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guard, called by our press “a mixture of students and militants” (possibly including Iran’s current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), stormed the U.S. Embassy, took 52 Americans hostage, and held them for 444 days.
The Iranian radicals had taken 52 Americans hostage. It was Jimmy Carter who made America hostage during that interminable period. His first reaction was to refuse to leave the White House and the Rose Garden while the hostages were hostage. For two Christmases he refused to light the White House National Christmas Tree. For week after week, month after month, the Iranians tortured and taunted us while Carter’s people desperately hunted for someone – anyone – there with whom they could negotiate.
Finally, in late April of 1980 -- I remember staying up late (it was Thursday, a school night) to watch the president’s morose speech acknowledging the disaster – Carter launched a failed rescue attempt, keeping the “force to minimum” and thus having too few helicopters when they were needed. The Ultimate Clusterboink occurred at the Desert One ad hoc airstrip, where a bus full of Iranian religious tourists showed up in the middle of the night, our helicopters broke down and fell below the minimum-number needed for the minimum-force attack in Tehran (six helicopters minimum), the mission was aborted. In the wild rush to leave one of the Sea Stallion helicopters crashed into the C-130 Hercules aircraft there and both aircraft burned, killing 8 U.S. servicemen – 5 airmen and 3 marines – and the rest of our commando force bugged out, leaving all of our remaining helicopters (and full sets of our secret Rescue Mission Plans) there at Desert One.
What happened next was surreal even by U.S.-Iranian standards. Since the discovery of the plans and classified equipment we’d left behind would have been an intelligence and propaganda coup for the Ayatollah, we called in favors from Iranian Air Force pilots we’d trained in the States and they willingly bombed the Desert One site, destroying our equipment and left-behind plans but dooming themselves. Not only were the helpful Iranian pilots executed but so – according to later CIA reports – were many members of their families.
After Desert One, I couldn’t look at or listen to Jimmy Carter without feeling nausea. The high point of the 1980 televised presidential debates was when Carter spoke – so touchingly, I thought – of climbing up into his daughter Amy’s White House grounds treehouse to discuss nuclear proliferation issues with her. (Amy had just turned 13 at the time and was a total twitchy twerp whenever she was on-camera.)
So I couldn’t vote for Jimmy Carter in 1980, but obviously I couldn’t vote for Ronald Reagan! I mean he was a . . . Republican. And a former actor. Reagan was a conservative joke, right? So what to do? What to do?
I still had Kennedy-loyalty DNA in me, so when Ted Kennedy decided to run in the 1980 Democratic primaries against a sitting president from his own party (Carter), I was ready to leap back into action. Having no savings to speak of, living (barely) from my biweekly check to check as a teacher, I was ready to take a 6-month sabbatical (which wouldn’t have been granted) to go work and write speeches for Teddy Kennedy.
Teddy had analyzed Jimmy Carter’s failure as Carter, the most liberal president we’d ever had, as being . . . not liberal enough!
Sounded OK to me.
Of course, there was still the little Chappaquiddick Thing to deal with, but it had been eleven years since Mary Jo Kopechne had drowned while Kennedy had been driving her around in the dunes for Reasons Unknown, so surely that wouldn’t be too much of a drag on his candidacy.
Camelot was returning!
Not quite. Right before Kennedy formally announced his candidacy, CBS reporter Roger Mudd (descended from the Dr. Mudd who was sent to the Florida Keys prison for the crime of setting the broken leg of assassin John Wilkes Booth and who later redeemed himself by testing on himself to find a cure for Yellow Fever) dared to ask the Massachusetts senator a tricky interview question – “Why do you want to be president?”
Teddy hemmed and hawed and then hemmed some more. He had no answer. He couldn’t tell the truth as he saw it – i.e. “It’s my turn.”
Nor, it turned out, had the little Chappaquiddick Incident completely blown over. When, during the spring Illinois Primary period, Teddy marched in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, he had to wear a bulletproof vest due to assassination threats and people along the parade route shouted at him – “Where’s Mary Jo?”
I didn't take a sabbatical to go try to write speeches for Senator Kennedy (although I still have the yard sign). But I did enjoy the 1980 Democratic Convention in ways that only a total politics-as-a-drug addict could.
First of all there was Ted Kennedy’s speech, the only truly audience- enthusiastic moment of the entire convention. Then there was Jimmy Carter’s car-wreck of an acceptance speech. (At one point, Carter was saying something nice about Hubert H. Humphrey, the great liberal and former presidential candidate who’d just died, but Carter wound up and pitched . . . “And we must remember that Happy Warrior, the honored giant in our party, the Honorable Hubert Horatio Hornblower . . . er . . uh . . .. Humphrey.”) And then there were the balloons. A hundred thousand of them. Which, when the moment after Carter’s speech came when they would all drop from their nettings above, just stayed up there. The net-releases didn’t work. Imagine Jimmy Carter and a thousand-plus delegates staring upwards, staring, waiting, staring, waiting . . . It was delicious.
But more fun than anything else during that clusterboink of a convention was the dance between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy. The president badly needed that visible “moment of unity” when the nominee and his #1 rival grip hands and lift their arms high, showing the disgruntled and sullen Kennedy delegates and primary voters that all was forgiven, that Kennedy supported Carter now.
But Ted Kennedy would be goddamned if he’d give Carter that moment.
Carter, First Lady Rosalynn, and little Amy (who was pouting and picking her nose most of the time) and the Mondales (vice-president and wife and kids), invited everyone up onto the groaning dais. Every convention speaker, every wardheeler, every political hack. But it was just a Carter trap to get Ted Kennedy up there for the Raised Unity Handclasp. Teddy, to whom politics was literally mother’s milk, waited as long as he could and joined the throng only after the dais was so crowded that it was threatening to collapse. And then The Chase ensued.
Jimmy Carter left his family and began ambling closer to Teddy Kennedy, who – amazingly gracefully for so bulky a man – began slipping and sliding away from Carter through the milling, grinning, waving, balloonless crowd up there. This dance went on for fifteen minutes and Carter never did corral Kennedy for the obligatory Raised Unity Handclasp. It’s the sort of moment – or quarter hour – that made conventions worth watching in the old days.
But what was I to do in the general election? No humor there. I found that, for the first time in my adult voting life, I couldn’t pull the lever for the Democratic candidate just because he was a Democrat. Jimmy Carter had not only alienated me with his weak, mewling, nation-destructive policies, now even the sound of his voice made me sick. But I couldn’t vote for Ronald Reagan! A Republican!???!! A conservative???? Never!
Luckily, there was a third candidate in the 1980 election – owl-eyed, bespectacled, moderate-Republican John Anderson who appealed to “Democrats who hated Jimmy Carter”. But even as I voted that year, I vowed that I’d never throw my vote away again.
Meanwhile, as you probably remember, the vote tally in 1980 was excitingly close: Reagan took 489 electoral votes to Carter’s 49 – about 91% of the electoral vote. (Independent John Anderson won about 6.6% of the popular vote and zero electoral votes.)
1984 -2008: A Series of Losers – Where Even the Winners Were Losers:
In 1984 I considered taking a half-sabbatical to work writing first-draft speeches for Colorado’s Sen.Gary Hart. Hart was young, had cultivated a series of deliberate JFK-like mannerisms (the way he spoke, used his hand when he spoke, fiddled with the middle button of his suit jacket, etc.) and I thought his theories on a leaner, meaner, Special Forces-oriented U.S. military were interesting. (Hart had also been George McGovern’s campaign manager and, after that debacle, had headed up the Democratic Party’s complete retooling of its primary system, which gave him a tremendous advantage when it came to strategy.)
Stephen and Tabitha King also went all in for Gary Hart, drawing huge crowds for him during the New England primaries. Then, one day in New Hampshire, Hart joined a “lumberjack contest”, looked great in jeans and red-and-black checked wool shirt, and threw an ax fifteen yards directly into the heart of a propped up cross-section of a tree for a bullseye. I knew I was looking at the next President of the United States. That feeling seemed vindicated in the New Hampshire primary when Hart came “out of nowhere” to defeat the Democratic establishment and union-favorite and seeming heir apparent, Walter Mondale, by 10% of the vote.
In a Democratic field that included astronaut John Glenn (who’d actually self-destructed when giving the Keynote Speech at Carter’s 1980 Convention, going more than 30 minutes over his allotted time – because of additions to his speech given to him by Carter’s people – so that the last 15 minutes featured the network cameras zooming in on the red “overtime” light on his podium and the delegates booing) as well as Jesse Hymietown Jackson (it's what Jackson called New York because it was "filled with Jews"), it really came down to Mondale representing the Democrat Liberal Old Guard and Gary Hart representing “moderate young voters”. The primaries were so close that the Democratic nominee wasn’t selected until the convention itself . . . the last time that’s happened in U.S. history.
Mondale’s establishment Party Machine pulled out the nomination for him and he went into the general election with his only hope being voter concern that Pres. Ronald Reagan – who, at age 73, was the oldest man to run for the presidency again – was too old and confused. Reagan’s first debate in October of ’84 seemed to confirm that impression – Reagan referred to soldiers’ uniforms as “wardrobe”, got lost in one answer and admitted to being confused, and mentioned “going to church right here in Washington” (even though the debate was being held in Louisville, Kentucky.) Smart money began to shift to Mondale, especially after he chose the first-ever woman vice-presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro (who touted her independence and smarts as a woman, but who – when journalists discovered that she’d signed contracts and acted as a member of “Board of Directors” for her husband’s shady, mob-related business dealings -- got out of it by pleading “I’m just a woman and wife; I didn’t understand what I was doing.”)
But Reagan had been exhaustively (literally) over-coached for that first debate, and in the second debate with Mondale he won the day (and the election) when inevitably asked by one of the reporter moderators about “the age issue” by saying – “"I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." The audience exploded in laughter. Mondale laughed. But Walter Mondale later admitted:
“If TV can tell the truth, as you say it can, you'll see that I was smiling. But I think if you come in close, you'll see some tears coming down because I knew he had gotten me there. That was really the end of my campaign that night, I think. [I told my wife] the campaign was over, and it was.”
The election itself was another squeaker: Reagan won 49 states and 525 electoral votes, losing only Mondale’s home state of Minnesota with its 13 electoral votes. Later, after the election, someone asked President Reagan what he wanted for Christmas and he said, “Well, Minnesota would be nice.”
In 1988, when Gary Hart was the presumed front runner for that year’s Democratic primaries and election, rumors arose early about the married Hart “fooling around”. He’d been hanging around, it turned out, with famed lady’s man Warren Beatty. No, it’s more fair to say that by 1988, Sen. Gary Hart thought he was Warren Beatty.
When confronted with these rumors, Hart smiled into the microphones and said, “Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored."
So some reporters took him up on his offer and almost immediately found that he was boinking a 29-year-old “model” named Donna Rice on a playboy’s yacht with the name Monkey Business. By early May, the Miami Herald reported that it had a photograph of a white-mini-skirted Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap on a Bimini dock (although the photograph was not printed until the National Perspirer put it on its front page on June 2). Hart’s wife, Lee, looked tearfully into the cameras and stated baldly that “my husband’s friendship with . . . that woman . . . is entirely innocent.” (She later divorced Hart.) It didn’t matter. Gary Hart was toast. His lifetime ambition to be president was over forever.
I thought I was mad at Gary Hart in 1988. Stephen King once said, and repeated in interviews and print -- “I felt let down and betrayed by Gary Hart, but don’t even mention the guy’s name to Tabbie. If she ever saw him again, she’d castrate him.”
Hart’s self-destruction led to Massachusetts' governor Michael Dukakis gaining the nomination.
Now, for you young folks, I want to put to rest the prevalent rumors that Gov. Dukakis was a poorly programmed android. He wasn’t. He was just the ultimate soul-less technocrat. On his last interview before the election, a sympathetic network reporter gave Mike Dukakis the last chance he needed to show that he was a human being, by asking the question – “Governor, you’ve talked about the need for prison reform and more liberal laws than we have now, but if your wife were – God forbid – beaten and raped by someone, wouldn’t you feel something like rage and wish for even tighter sentencing laws?”
To which Dukakis brilliantly replied (thus winning the election) – “I would feel such rage, Sam. It would be an overpowering rage. Everything in my mind, body, and soul would cry out to have me rip the rapist apart, piece by piece. I’d want justice. I’d want blood. But that’s the response we had to give into before we slowly, painfully, created the thing called civilization, Sam. Now, as much as I’d like to kill the bastard with my bare hands, we have courts and juries to decide the felon’s fate.”
Just kidding. Of course Dukakis didn’t say that. Instead, he put his thumb on his loosely curled fist and dryly and unemotionally went through his six-part plan for liberal prison reform.
George Herbert Walker Bush, Reagan’s former vice-president, won the 1988 election with 40 states and 426 electoral votes to Dukakis’s 111 electoral votes.
I won’t belabor my vote (singular) for Clinton. I’d become interested in the drawling Arkansas governor as early as 1988 and became even more interested after a fascinating Sept. ’92 interview in Rolling Stone which included amongst its interviewers, the antimatter pair of P.J. O’Rourke and Hunter J. Thompson.
All I’ll say about Clinton’s years is that when I was a kid in fifth grade, just beginning my great love of history with a love affair with the American Revolution and the country’s earliest presidents, I came across this prayer by John Adams that was later carved into the mantel of the White House dining room –
“I pray to heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that hereafter inhabit it...May none but the honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."
Notice that Adams didn’t say anything about presidents who solicit oral sex from young female interns in that White House and who then perjure themselves in sworn testimony and wiggle like a worm on a hook by trying to parse what the definition of “is” is.
Clinton’s so popular as an ex-president, I believe, not only because events completely unrelated to Bill Clinton granted the United States a brief sabbatical from History during most of his years in office – plus the techno- and dot.com-bubbles that sent our economy flying, especially when paired with the Peace Dividend – but also because, by showing that he was a venial, immoral, lying, self-indulgent s*** when granted the most power of any man on Earth, Bill Clinton empowered entire generations of Americans to go and do likewise. (“Who are we to throw the first stone?”) was the butter-won’t-melt-in-their-mouths response of equally guilty Americans who were now licensed by Clinton’s “innocent” verdict in his impeachment trial. In other words, if he could do it and not be reprimanded, why shouldn’t the same go for all of us?
I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton the second time around. I’m no one to throw a first stone, but I couldn’t stomach Bill Clinton’s long career of lower-lip-biting pious lying and self-indulgence. I kept thinking of something that I’d heard years earlier about Bill’n’Hillary – something that too painfully applied, I realized, to our entire Baby Boomer generation, i.e. – “They wanted to be seen always as doing good, all while they were just trying to do well . . . . for themselves.”
I voted for Bob Dole in 1996. It was the first time I’d ever voted for a Republican and I brought my good luck for the candidate with me. Clinton-Gore won 379 electoral votes to Dole-Kemp’s 159. And it wasn’t as close as it sounds.
Gore and Kerry:
I vowed I’d never vote for Al Gore the 300th time I heard him exploit the same mawkish, word-for-word identical story of the “near death accident” of his son (who survived) into a speech. The man was a pimp. In the 2000 election, all he would have had to do to win was carry his own state of Tennessee or his former boss Bill Clinton’s state of Arkansas. He couldn’t do either.
As for John Kerry – well, I was there and paying attention in April of 1971 when Kerry, a “decorated war veteran”, “ threw over the White House fence nine medals” he’d received in the war. He didn’t. They weren’t his medals. And he never had nine to throw. Nor did I ever believe he’d earned the five citations he did win. You know, those “war hero” medals he kept and ran on in 2004.
But he could never keep his stories straight. When he was running for president in 2004, Kerry reversed course and said on “Good Morning America” – “"I threw my ribbons. I didn't have my medals. It is very simple." (To the military, the ribbons are equal to the medals.) "We threw away the symbols of what our country gave us for what we had gone through," he said.
But when ABC’s late anchorman Peter Jennings pressed him on the medals controversy in December of that election year, Kerry had a new story. “I'm proud of my medals. I always was proud of them," he told Jennings, adding that he had only thrown away his "ribbons" and the medals of two other veterans who could not attend the protest. He was proud of his medals; he was ashamed of his ribbons. Besides, they were always someone else’s medals that he’d thrown anyway.
Wait a minute. On April 24, 1971, the day after Kerry had lobbed somebody’s medals over the White House fence during that major anti-war protest, he’d said to the Boston Globe – “In a real sense, this administration forced us to return our medals because beyond the perversion of the war, these leaders themselves denied us the integrity those symbols supposedly gave our lives.”
Perhaps all politicians are lying sacks of fertilizer. To me, John Kerry was – and is – a larger lying sack of fertilizer than most lying sacks of fertilizer.
So in 2008 I voted for Obama. I was never taken in by his “charisma” – I think Gary Hart cured me of “charisma” for good – and I never thought his speeches were that good and I had no urge, even when my wife and daughter left home before 5 a.m. to go hear Obama speak in Denver before the election, to attend one of his rallies. The 2008 Democratic Ordination . . . one could hardly call it a convention . . . climaxing in the Nuremburg-Rally 84,000-person mob nomination acceptance, complete with fake Styrofoam presidential “pillars” in Mile-High Stadium was, I thought, a cheesy embarrassment.
But I voted for him. I wanted a “post-racial America”. I wanted a “bipartisan America” for a while. I wanted a fresh start with a president who had promised to “bring us together.”
What I got, of course – what we all got – was a far left-wing ideologue who’s ruled through blatant partisanship. Every Democratic constituency and dusty idea on the Left Wing Shelf got paid for (or paid off) in the $800+ billion “stimulus package” that – weirdly – stimulated almost nothing and ended up in almost no new jobs for Americans. (Other than labor unions, teacher unions, etc.)
Obama’s four years have not been a disappointment to me; they’ve been an abomination.
His constant blaming of others for his own inability to help this nation out of its worst recession since the 1930’s reminds me of Jimmy Carter’s mewling – “It’s the Japanese tsunami’s fault”; “It’s all George W. Bush’s fault”; It’s the fault of those hillbilly Americans “who cling to their guns and Bibles”, “It’s the fault of every president who ever came before me (except Bill Clinton!)” and so on and so forth.
In truth, Barack Obama wasn’t prepared to be mayor, even of so corrupt and vicious a city as Chicago, much less President of the United States. We bestowed upon him the greatest honor and responsibility we could give to any American man or woman and Barack Obama simply wasn’t up to the task. The only thing that’s remained true and consistent during his presidency is his unrelenting high regard for himself. (What should we have expected from a man whose sole claim to fame was that he’d written two – not one, but two – hagriographic autobiographies before he was 42 years old?)
He swore that he would unite us; he’s divided America as never before in my lifetime, even including the Vietnam years. He promised that he would lead us to a “post-racial America”; instead he’s played the race card at every opportunity, and his incompetent and ideology-driven handpicked Attorney General Eric Holder has made ingrained reverse-racism formal Department of Justice policy. Obama swore that he’d get unemployment down to 5% or lower within two years; his policies have kept unemployment above 8% for an historically unprecedented 42 consecutive months. He said he’d win the “real war” in Afghanistan; now he’s bugging out and removing our troops in the middle of the fighting season while “friendly Afghans” daily turn their weapons on Americans.
Obama promised the world that through apologetic statements and his own “unique multi-racial and multi-cultural biography”, he would mend tensions and problems with the Islamic world. Muslims hate us more than ever, but when they murder our Libyan ambassador and breach the walls of our Egyptian Embassy and burn our flag on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11, Obama – when he speaks of the incident at all – insists, through surrogates such as Sec. of State Hillary Rodham (don’t forget that middle name) Clinton and spokesman Jay Rodham Carney that “it was all the video’s fault.” Meanwhile, America is on the retreat everywhere in the world. Led by policies such as Obama’s hostility toward Israel and his missile-defense betrayal of Poland and Czechoslovakia, our friends no longer trust us as allies and our sworn enemies no longer fear us. Both groups treat us with deserved contempt.
The national debt, which Obama declared a clear and present danger in 2008 and promised to cut in half in his first term, has bloomed from $10 trillion when he took office to $16 trillion the night he accepted his re-nomination for president this September. He now states that the debt, which could and will snap this nation in two if and when inflation inevitably kicks in and makes our interest payments impossible, “is not a problem in the short term.”
Everything with Barack Obama has been for “the short term”. And that short term ends with his re-election. After that, as he told Russia’s President Medvedev to tell Russia’s real dictator, Vladimir Putin, he – Obama – will “have more flexibility”.
Medvedev, on the video, squeezed Obama’s knee. He understood what was being said.
It is the last week in September of 2012 as I write this and I have no idea how the election will come out. It’s true that polling in the few “battleground states” has shown Barack Obama gaining ground – and the accommodating news networks are all but announcing the November election over and won by the incumbent – but then I recall that five weeks out from the 1980 election, Jimmy Carter – for all his obvious and painful domestic and foreign failures – had a much wider double-digit lead over Gov. Ronald Reagan than Obama currently has over Romney.
Of course, polling may have become more sophisticated since then. It probably has. But even so, I was there when two debates showed the country that Ronald Reagan – that elderly mystery figure so easy to make fun of – was actually more “presidential” than the sitting president, Jimmy Carter. And he had some answers to our problems, which Carter demonstrably did not.
But that was then. Odds are that mere debates won’t have such an effect on this election. Everyone’s minds are pretty well made up already in this election. We think less now. We believe more. Politics has become religion – something to be taken on faith and the facts and evidence be damned.
So why am I wasting my time and yours by repeating these facts and arguments, even if the facts are true and the arguments are from the heart?
If you’re going to vote for Barack Obama this year, nothing that I or anyone else can say will change your mind. Perhaps no one’s mind has ever been changed by argument – or even by reason – when it comes to political decisions. Neville Chamberlain was adored by the British public because he’d brought “Peace in Our Time” back from the groveling humiliation that had been his meeting with Hitler in Munich. He was loved and adored right up to the moment England had to go to war – largely because of Chamberlain’s and his party’s totally failed policies – and then the people tossed him aside and turned to Winston Churchill, a true leader. It was almost too late even for that.
I hate the idea of war, but I’m growing ever more certain that our current appeasement policies toward Iran and its race to build nuclear weapons are all but assuring that we’ll be in a war sooner rather than later. The growing probability of that makes me physically ill. It’s as if we had satellite coverage in the late 1930’s of the Nazis building Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, all of their death camps . . . and we did nothing. As if we did nothing but talk about sanctions and offer the open hand of friendship to genocidal fiends. And then turn the channel to “American Idol”.
I don’t know why free peoples keep painting themselves into corners like that. Perhaps we, as individuals and parties, believe what we believe politically --- and ignore the obvious facts that we have to ignore in life – because of how our synapses are hardwired or how and where we were raised. Or perhaps we’re all just dumb as dirt when it comes to making some political decisions.
The point of this useless essay is to let you know that I know that I’ve been that dumb in the past. And I was in 2008 when I voted for Barack Obama.
Unfettered idealism, I’ve learned, is a good thing right up to the point that some cynical and power-hungry pol uses it to further his or her own extreme agenda. And then you, as a voter and citizen and active political participant, have reduced yourself to the role of serving as a useful idiot.
Or I should just speak for myself. And so I am.
The only thing I know for certain about November and things presidential is that I hope to see Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” that month with Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. Would you have voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1860? Would I have? How can we be sure?
Enjoy voting this November 6. Casting that vote is our sacred right and responsibility as citizens of the United States of America.
But pray God that the right and best man wins this time. As in 1860, there’s too much at stake this time around to forgive even the best-intentioned error by the electorate.
Just pray God the best man wins this time.