Once More With Feeling


WITH ONLY a year and nine months to go before election day, the 1980 Presidential races are heating up. As surely as a bird flying north marks spring, or the sounds of Mr. Test floating down Mem Hall mark exam period, the posturing, the hand-shaking, the favor-doing, the responsible-statesman tone of voice, the fund-raising, the denial of candidacy mark running for office. This year's field of contenders is even more of a National Lampoon parody than usual. Take the rerun of the '76 Republican dogfight (elephant fight?), for example, only this time Old Ronald McDonald Reagan is approaching the age of mandatory retirement for most jobs and Gerry Ford is still Gerry Ford, unfortunately more so. If that isn't a sick joke, I don't know what is.

Granted, there are about 42 other guys scrambling over each other in the GOP trying to take credit for the Tax Revolt, the Second American Revolution. And all asking "Who Lost China?" and saying "Guns Don't Kill People, Inflation Kills People." The Republicans seem to think they have a chance of winning, since Watergate has long since past and Carter comes off looking inept and confused. Which probably accounts for why Carter was willing to take so much criticism from supporters in the Democratic Party for bringing Nixon to the White House to meet Deng Xiao-Ping. Carter may have claimed that Deng, now widely praised by Peking wall posters as the "man-who-is-bringing-toaster-ovens-to-China," wanted to see the legendary Richard, but Carter knows that the only thing to do when falling in the polls is to trot out that most beloved of (Republican) Americans, Tricky Dick.

But if you seek sanity and solace on the other side of the aisle, alas you seek in vain. Carter is getting more and more unsettled as Jerry Brown nudges into the race more and more openly. Besides having an edge toward the right over Carter due to his neat turnaround on Proposition 13, plus his call for a Constitutional amendment mandating a balanced U.S. budget, Brown has Carter worried over the religious issue. Carter may have the support of the Fundamentalists, the Born-Again folk, but Brown taps the Tao, culls the Zen support, rides the whole neo-Eastern-religious-cultists-pseudo-mystical wave. And Carter can scarcely forget that out of the last ten or so primaries in 1976 he only won a handful, and lost every head-to-head match he had with Brown.

AND THAT OF COURSE means Teddy will have to step in. Not that he wants to, mind you--Teddy has told us often enough that he has no intention of running, no selfish desire to rule America as his brothers had. After all, he expects "Jimmy Carter to be nominated, Jimmy Carter to be re-elected." But then again, if Brown beats Carter in a couple of primaries, and has the potential to win the Democratic nomination, well then, Teddy has no obligation to be loyal to Brown, and still less intention to let a Republican win if a multi-candidate Democratic race shows little sign of picking an electable nominee.

The Teddy supporters are jubilant each time Carter makes a mistake or looks unpresidential. They gird their loins for battle each time Carter moves to the right and junks budget luxuries like a decent health care program or money for urban revitalization. They gnash their teeth when he says "We are about to have a big breakthrough in the SALT talks that will end the arms race and help moves us towards my ultimate goal, a nuclear-free world. Amen. We will increase defense spending by $15 billion dollars to build more weapons. Amen." They chant each morning to get in the proper spirit, "Chappawhat, Marywho, Chappawhat?"

Of course, each time Teddy gets himself in the public eye, the volume of hate mail and death threats he gets goes way up. And as the last brother in the clan, he's got the responsibility for a lot of families. Charisma, personal power, whatever it is that defines the Kennedys as Kennedys--it's a two-edged sword. People are either won over passionately, see Teddy as the last liberal, the only strong leader left, the covert hope of the Democratic Socialists, or they see Teddy as part of a massive, global conspiracy of Mafiosi, British bankers, Zionists, Communists, neo-Platonists, and Zoroastrians. Or they see him as Evil Incarnate.

THEN THERE ARE the fringe candidates. On the left, Michael Harrington, one of the founders and national chairman of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and author of The Other America (partly responsible for arousing the public consciousness of remaining widespread American poverty that led to Johnson's War on Poverty), almost ran. He decided he couldn't get up enough money to make it respectable or worth the time and effort, and didn't feel like going the Eugene Debs self-martyr route. Of course, there is Lyndon H. Larouche.

You probably have never heard of Lyndon H. Larouche, but the guys that stand by Holyoke Center giving away his party's newspaper assured me that Larouche was right for America in 1980. It seems that a lot of the other candidates are part of a conspiracy to usher in the New Dark Ages, by collectivist government, the spreading of drugs, the hidden murderous plots of the national health insurance movement. His paper is put out by the U.S. Labor Party, but in many ways it is indistinguishable from any paper of the other lunatic fringe, the dreaded Right Wing.

Like Buckley's rag, er, magazine. Come to think of it, Buckley's for legalizing grass, usually under the euphemism, de-criminalization. This came after he tried a couple of joints in his boat outside the six-mile U.S. territorial waters limit a few years ago. (I wonder what a stoned William Buckley sounds like, or what words he is able to pronounce.) Could Buckley be in on the plot? But Buckley's brother was a Republican Senator from the same state at the same time as noted liberal-Republican-visibly-Jewish-Zionist Jacob Javits. And Javits was friends with Rockefeller and Kissinger, and the whole Trilateral cabal, and the European bankers and the anti-Third Worlders. What does it all mean?

WHEN IT COMES down to it, the Republicans will drop off one-by-one splintering the field, throwing away public tax moneys from the presidential campaign chests to tell us how much money they want to save us in taxes, leaving the older war-horses (no more elephant jokes, please) to slowly tire each other to a standstill. Carter will use the full powers of the Presidency to fight off Brown and Kennedy and possibly a host of Governors who made 1979 inaugural speeches sounding suspiciously like 1981 inaugural speeches.

after all, since it doesn't mean anything but sounds like New Freedom, New Nationalism, Square Deal, Fair Deal, New Deal, and New Federalism. When the "theme" wears thin, Carter can stir up wars and skillfully avoid them, or win them, and he can play with the economy to make us feel more prosperous than we ever will be. But the Georgian is no longer the man who can walk up to a three-year-old, smile a good-old-boy-two-sets-of-teeth-smile and say, "Why shucks, I don't even rightly recollect as I know where Washington is." And he can kiss the black, poor, urban vote goodbye, without getting many Tax-Revolt, solid Republicans in the suburbs votes.

In the end, after a grueling, bruising, bank-busting campaign, two confused, torn and alienated parties will head for the convention halls, and in one last desperate attempt to persuade turned-off electorate not to turn away from the parties, from voting, from giving politicians a chance to correct the mistakes of other politicians who were elected in the first place to undo the modifications of the reforms of the earlier politicians, the parties will turn to revered senior statesmen, men with images, with romantic support, with possibility--and nominate Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert Humphrey.