After the Nixon/Ford Combo, America was ready for competence. What it got was possibly the greatest president of all time, in any country, ever. Who is this Dark Horse of which I speak? Why, Jimmy Carter, of course; our 39th President.
Jimmy Carter rode into the office of President on a wave of “Don’t mess this up.” A lesser man would have been content to sign the bills, make the photo-ops, and slide into placeholder status between better-known presidents. An even lesser man than that would have gotten us into an unnecessary war, drove the debt to new heights, undercut education and the environment, and polarized a nation. Jimmy Carter was neither of those hypothetical men.
Jimmy Carter: born again Christian, environmentalist, human rights advocate, farmer, moral compass. He raised the fuel efficiency standards to levels not seen before or since. He mediated talks geared toward Mideast peace. He had a wonderful smile. His wife, June Carter Cash, hailed from a family of musicians and carried on that tradition.
Okay, so he wasn’t married to June. But his real wife Rosalynn, so I am told, was the model of tastefulness and tact.
In this age of doubt and fear, we need the man who turned our nation around at a time of crisis. We need Jimmy Carter to claim his untapped second term. And with trusty sidekick Barack Obama as VP, how can he miss?
My proposal, dear readers, is simple. Carter/Obama 08. The campaign will focus on leading American into 12 years of progressive politics. The slogan will be “JC 2: The Resurrection” (how’s that for catering to the religious right?) The theme song is still undecided, but I’m thinking Springsteen (not Born in the U.S.A. Two Hearts, maybe?).
Mr. Carter or Mr. Obama have not endorsed this message. Yet.
I’ve long had a penchant for writing about certain past presidents. Thanks to They Might Be Giants, as well as a certain high school Government skit that proved highly successful with my classmates, I will always have an affinity for James K. Polk. However, it is the duo of Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon, perhaps the most and least successful of the Republican presidents, that I find myself writing about the most.
Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. He guided the country through its most destructive war. He was extraordinarily tall, he wore hats, and he had a fantastic beard. He was a good public speaker and debater. He came from Illinois, “Land of Lincoln” (coincidence? I think not.) I’ve seen his house in Springfield, the offices where he practiced law, the State Legislature where he got his start politically, and his final resting place. What do I like so much about Lincoln? He was a humble man. He dealt with depression, and many of the pictures of him betray a deep melancholy. He was, in short, the absolute opposite of certain “stay the course” presidents of more recent memory. I get the feeling that he would never have made it in today’s information-gorged society. Had his every utterance been recorded, had his every motive been questioned by others, I doubt he would have been able to keep the focus on what mattered to him most: serving the country that elected him. Lincoln was a flawed, interesting character.
Richard Nixon hated the Jews. Let’s be honest here. They have tapes of him saying as much. He was a paranoid man, somehow always the underdog in his own mind even after being elected twice to the highest position in government. Sure, he went to China. Sure, he signed the Clean Air Act of 1970. But a little war halfway around the world that was the undoing of his Democrat predecessor would also drag him through one of the most troubled presidencies in history. That and a criminal investigation. As for his personality, Nixon just gave off an air of being a bad man. You’d think he could have relaxed a little; it might have helped his public image. He seemed to be constantly fighting. I heard a good phrase recently: “I’m not kicking against anything, I’m just kicking in midair.” That, to me, seems to sum up Richard Nixon.
Both Lincoln and Nixon had their personal troubles, but it was how they dealt with them that makes them different. That, and their policies. Kind of strange that they share the same party, isn’t it?
The first time I saw an Ingmar Bergman movie, I was in college. I remember sitting on the steps outside the big theater building before the movie started. I was with my friend Charlotte. It being the first days of September, the light reached well into nighttime, and it was warm and pleasant outside. We talked while we waited for the doors to open. I looked up, straight up and saw a flock of birds overhead. I tilted my head back and saw the top of the theater building, a huge concrete slab of a building, at the top of my vision. The birds appeared to come out of it; a bird explosion. The birds kept coming long after I expected to see an end of the group. I thought the flock would flock out, but there were hundreds of birds. After what may have been a whole minute of birds, we finally saw the end of the flock. It was an amazing moment. Then we went inside and saw The Seventh Seal.
There were four reels (I think) of film. The reason we noticed was because the projector couldn’t handle more than one reel at a time, so every twenty minutes or so they had to change the reels manually. The print was worn, too, making the black and white images seem even more distant. The movie takes place during the Crusades and the Black Death, and I felt as though they had filmed the movie during that time – that’s how ancient it felt. Coupled with that was the tone and story of the film, the composition of each shot; it all felt out of time. Was I the only one who laughed at the man who agreed to play chess with Death, then tried to cheat and extend the game as long as he could? Even in a somber movie, there were moments of hilarity.
For people like Bergman, movies are important because of the stories they tell. I admire that, and I am glad he was able to tell so many. Some people talk about why it’s important to tell stories. Bergman didn’t talk about why: he showed us.