Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Drawn and Cartered

Temporary lay offs--Good Times
Easy credit rip offs--Good Times
Scratchin' and surviving--Good Times
Hangin' in a chow line--Good Times
Aint we lucky we got 'em--Good Times
--theme song from the '70s sitcom

John McCain, who some time ago, maybe back when he was a "maverick" (is he also a Rockford File?), admitted that he knew nothing about economics, has apparently been brushing up on the subject. He's brushed up by backing up--all the way to the Carter administration, evoking memories, and comparisons, that he hopes causes voters to give Barack Obama the brush off. Running against Jimmy Carter has been the Republican strategy for a quarter of a century, plus two. Ronald Reagan got the ball rolling by running against Carter in 1980. I mean, really running against Carter, not the Liberal Democrat Incarnate of popular myth, but the actual, physical, living, breathing human being. Reagan won, partly due to the situation in Iran (I wonder what ever happened to that country), and partly due to the dismal state of the economy. And what a dismal state it was, what with double digit inflation and unemployment running about 7.5%. Under those circumstances, God would have lost to Reagan. During Reagan's presidency, unemployment increased to a whopping 10%, but was down to 7.1% by 1984. If I'm doing my math right, that's, um , a .4% difference (I hate decimals. Whoever invented them should be decimated ) between Carter and Reagan. I'm not sure how many actual, physical, living, breathing human beings this .4% represented, but there was apparently enough of them for Reagan to trounce Walter Mondale in the general election. Of course, it didn't help that Mondale had been vice-president under Jimmy Carter, the Liberal Democrat Incarnate of popular myth, or maybe just short memory. It also didn't help that upon receiving his party's nomination, Mondale triumphantly announced plans to raise taxes. That's always a vote getter. Four years later, Reagan's vice-president, the first George Bush, ran against Michael Dukakis AND Jimmy Carter. I still have a vivid memory of the commercial the Bush campaign put out that year. There was a picture of Willie Horton--hold on; wrong commercial, wrong vivid memory. OK, the other commercial showed a bunch of down-and-out people during the Depression of the 1930s. Actually, it was the Recession of the 1970s, but it was in black-and-white, so it was LIKE the Depression of the 1930s. Who wants to go back to the 1970s?, the narrator ominously, or maybe just drolly, asked. Not us, the voters replied, for now Jimmy Carter was not just Liberal Democrat Incarnate, but 1970s Recession Incarnate as well. Dukakis, who would have preferred to have been identified with John F. Kennedy, was trounced. Bush couldn't rely on the same tactic four years later, for by then the economy, stupid, had become Carter Lite, and thus he served a single term, to make the comparison complete. Since then Carter's name's been occasionally bandied about, but the Republicans have moved on to the War on Terrorism, or thought they had until war was declared on America's pocketbook.

And so McCain has revived the Grand Old Parting Shot. He sounds just like Reagan in 1980, and 1984, and the first Bush in 1988, warning about a return to the "failed policies of the past." The past is certainly returning in other ways. High prices at the pump, high unemployment, and soon, they're predicting, high inflation. This is more than Carter Lite. It's Carter Heavy! It's wholly appropriate McCain would evoke his name, except for one little thing. CARTER ISN'T PRESIDENT. He hasn't been president for a very long time. Britney Spears wasn't even an embryo when Carter last sat in the Oval Office. The man who has presided over Carter Heavy is the son of the man who presided over Carter Lite, President George Walker Bush.

Of course, John McCain isn't President Bush. He's a "maverick". But while criticizing the failed liberal policies of an increasingly distant past (even Ashton Kutcher has left the '70s behind) wouldn't it be nice to occasionally criticize the failed conservative policies of the here and now. Do that, and I might not feel the need to put quotation marks around "maverick". Some true conservatives (they call themselves that to distinguish themselves from the other kind, whatever the other kind is) don't consider George Bush a true conservative (so that must be the other kind!) what with the deficit and all that, so John McCain could always try that tack, except he's not trying that tack. Not that the true conservatives want him to. They don't like John McCain. No one in the Republican Party seems to like him very much. So why is he the presumptive nominee? Either they've already written 2008 off and are throwing McCain under his his very own Straight Talk Express bus, or they think he'll get those swing voters thrilled at the prospect of a "maverick" boldly taking on a president who's been out of office for 27 years. Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side.

So expect, my friends, to hear more about how Barack Obama is just like Jimmy Carter, Failed Liberal Policies of the 1970s Incarnate. Just keep two things in mind. First, a decade is ten years. Carter took office in 1977. As far as the seventies go, he had a measly three years. A lousy measly three years, but what came before was hardly a rose garden. For the first part of the decade, not only wasn't Carter president, most people outside of Georgia didn't even know he existed. Yet we still had inflation, high unemployment, long lines at the pump. You see those lyrics that I started this spiel off with? Written during a Republican administration.

The second thing. When he ran for re-election in 1980, Carter was challenged within his own party by Ted Kennedy, who was backed by a lot of unhappy liberals. Why were they so unhappy? They didn't like the way Carter kept deregulating things. They thought him too conservative.

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