Witcover Uncovers

Damn! My birthday is this weekend. So why am I so upset? I should be happy because I'll be 21

Damn! My birthday is this weekend. So why am I so upset? I should be happy because I'll be 21 and that means I can imbibe alcoholic beverages in every state and rent a car. But I'm scared. I read last week in Newsweek (and nowhere else) that a Brigham Young University professor has found that over 40 per cent of stiffs kick within three months of their birthdays. Wouldn't you be apprehensive if after Sunday your chances of going to you final resting place (Fathers Six) were going to increase three-fold? If this column fails to appear some week in the near future, you will know I haven't just been blown off in the shop, as we say in the news business, which happened last week.

What any of this has to do with lectures is beyond me. I could start all over, but that would be a waste of paper so why don't you just ignore the first couple paragraphs and pretend the column starts with the next one.

Washington Star syndicated columnist, Jules Witcover, the author of "Marathon," a massive tome on the 1976 presidential campaign, will speak at 8 p.m. in the Ames Courtroom in the Law School's Austin Hall as the guest of the Law School Forum. In his book, Witcover harps on the decrease over the last century in the number of people who vote in presidential elections. In 1860, 81 percent of the eligible populace turned out to vote and swept Abraham Lincoln to victory; in 1976, only 54.4 per cent of citizens over eighteen made it to the polls. Carter sought a mandate from the American people, but for every person over eighteen who voted for him, three did not.

Something is obviously wrong here. "The chaos of the system and incredible length of the campaign may well be prime reasons for voter disenchantment," Witcover concludes.

However, he still believes in the essential soundness of the system. The success of Jimmy Carter, who lacked fame, money and established political support at the outset of the campaign, proves this point, Witcover argues. "If a prime purpose of the political system is to give all contenders an equal chance to achieve leadership, then the system worked without question in 1976," he writes.

To help the system work better, Witcover proposes several reforms in the "confusing and debilitating primary obstacle course," the electoral college, the federal campaign-finance law, aid to third-party candidates and the voter registration system.

Witcover ends by expressing high hopes for the Carter presidency. "Perhaps he did believe, as he so often said, that he drew his strength from an intimate contact with the American people, and did not want to lose that contact," Witcover writes.

"If Jimmy Carter...did so believe, and continued to act on that belief in substance as well as in symbolism, only good could come of it, for the country. And for him," Witcover adds.

Lately, however, Carter's intimate contact with the people seems to be ebbing. He is appearing less like a breath of lemon-freshened air, a political outsider, and more like a common household politician, complete with broken campaign promises. It should be interesting to see if Witcover exudes as much optimism tonight.

Another journalist who should have some interesting things to say is Henry Shapiro, former UPI Moscow bureau chief and ABC-TV Moscow correspondent. He will be speaking on "The Role of the Journalist in Foreign Policy," Monday at 8:30 p.m. in Science Center D.