January 21, 2019


This Year Looks A Lot Like The 1976 Democratic Primary. What Does That Mean For 2020? (Katherine Miller, 1/21/19, BuzzFeed News)

Take 1976, when Jimmy Carter came out of nowhere to win the nomination and presidency. Depending on who you're talking to, this is the most wide-open Democratic primary since 2004, 1992, or 1976. But 1976 is the year most likely to be like our own: a huge, divided field of liberal candidates ran for president after a period of nightmare politics. If you read enough about the 1976 election, you'll pick up on a dead-ended weariness -- the kind of emotional valence that feels familiar to 2019, a year that has begun with a dystopian joke about Marie Kondo throwing away most of the world because it does not spark joy.

"What Jimmy Carter has thought is that many people are turned off by the old politics, Watergate, stress, issues, and now," Sally Quinn wrote at the time, "they simply want to make it through the night."

The Vietnam War and Richard Nixon -- both finished by then -- dominated 1976. Carter's campaign recognized early on, the New York Times wrote, that though there might "be passing moments of interest in other concepts," one subsumed all others: "the issue of integrity" -- and "the most successful candidates would base their pursuits on that foundation." A decade later, Jerry Rafshoon, Carter's TV ad maker, told the New Republic that the basis for the campaign's materials -- an array of gentle PBS-looking clips -- was Carter's existing message. "We looked at the footage we had and these were the lines that were capturing audiences. Who came up with it? Jimmy Carter the candidate," he said. "It worked for those times."

And thus, in ads and on the trail: Jimmy Carter spent a lot of time talking about love.

"I want a government," the central line went, "that is as good and honest, and decent, and truthful, and fair, and competent, and idealistic, and compassionate, and as filled with love as are the American people."

Despite cratering the word "liberal" for a quarter century, during the actual campaign, Carter frustrated a wide array of Democrats and reporters by eluding ideological categorization. He seemed very liberal on civil rights, for instance, but Julian Bond wouldn't endorse him; he was a final and Southern rebuke to segregationist George Wallace, but he'd shown a little friendliness to Wallace years before; he hadn't opposed the Vietnam War, but called it a racist war in 1976, fought by those who couldn't afford to evade the draft. He kept saying he was a nuclear physicist (he was not) and rarely gave specifics about anything he'd actually do on taxes, inflation, etc.

Instead, stuff like: "We've still got the greatest system of government on earth. Richard Nixon hasn't hurt it. Watergate didn't hurt it. Vietnam and Cambodia haven't hurt it. ... We still have within us the same strength, the same courage, the same ability, the same intelligence, the same educational capacity, the same religious faith, the same love of our land, the same concern about our children as have existed in the minds and hearts of the great people of the past."

This was delivered to rapt, quiet crowds in a fairly grim manner -- which was maybe part of the appeal, seeming serious after all the chaos.

W obviously had a much more thorough platform he ran on, but he and the UR depended heavily on simply being decent and caring American men.

Posted by at January 21, 2019 6:08 PM