The Joyless Campaign and the Politics of Fear By Stuart P. Stevens Washington The contrast with 1976 could not have been greater. Four years ago Madison Square Garden was filled with pride and expectation. Jimmy Carter was going to show the world how compassion and brains could transform the country. Four years . . . and now that same Jimmy Carter was hunkered over the podium looking for all the world like a Joe McCarthy understudy, ranting and raving. Four years for “Why not the best?” to become “There’s one person who’s worse.” It’s depressing. To many of us who once enthusiastically supported Carter, the 1980 Democratic convention was everything the Carter presidency could have been, reduced to a shamble of anti-Reagan platitudes. All that we had loved about the man his intelligence and warmth, his energy and humor were lost to the dark Nixonian side of his character: his meanness, his anger, his megalomaniacal obsession with victory. If New York was any indication, the fall campaign should be simply awful. Wandering around the Garden like a bunch of tourists seeing the same ruins for the tenth time, Carter’s delegates with their dreadful unenthusiasm seemed to epitomize Campaign ’80’s apparent lack of spirit, ideas, excitement. If these are Carter’s shock troops, it’s no wonder he’s been re-evaluating evacuation plans in the event of disaster. The one hope for the fall is the superabundance of ironies currently banging around the hustings. The Democratic nominee feels obligated to publicly dis Stuart Stevens is a Washington political consultant. avow a $12 billion jobs plan as too inflationary, while Bill Brock declares the Republicans’ “number one issue is jobs, jobs, jobs.” With his incessant fearmongery, Carter seems determined to out-demagogue Reagan no mean feat. But then again, Jimmy always did love a challenge. Carter’s convention film dwelt on his capacity for bringing out the best in us . . . and then the man himself appeared and spent an hour trying to invoke nothing but fear and hatred. Somehow the President’s men have managed to cast Carter in the role of the shrill attacker, leaving Ronny as the voice of calmness and reason. The mind boggles. At least you have to credit both campaigns with the realization that fear is a growth industry. Like a couple of mad scientists, both candidates are racing to see who can create the biggest monster by November. At the moment I suppose Jimmy is losing, but not for want of trying. With typical verve, he faced a meeting of the DNC the day after his acceptance speech and declared, “This election may determine if your sons are to die in a foreign war.” Zappo. This president may go into rescue missions half-heartedly, but elections are strictly scorched earth. Take-no-prisonersJimmy, yessir. His redneck father would be proud. If Carter appears to be losing the fear battle, it’s only because so much of Reagan’s work has been done for him. As somewhere close to 75 percent of the public agrees, the Carter presidency has been one smashing disappointment. At this point Reagan need only lumber across the country whispering “Four more years!” to send fear into the hearts of brave men everywhere. But that will change \(as the post-convention polls alinto one of his best and oldest acts: The Government Honor Story, with Jimmy Carter making a special guest appearance as the Bloated Bureaucrat. Ah yes, democracy! But if fear is the choice of weaponry, who’s likely to win the duel? Methinks Reagan. One only has to compare Kennedy’s attack on Reagan with Carter’s to see quickly how badly Jimmy plays Dr. Frankenstein. Part of the problem is, I suppose, the fact that Carter actually believes all that hyped-up nonsense. He lacks the sort of good-humored perspective that Kennedy utilized so brilliantly in his Tuesday night spectacular. Strange as it may seem, Carter is just egomaniacal enough to convince himself that yes, indeed, young son Chip is as good as dead should a fellow named Reagan end up with more electoral votes on November 5. Heaven forbid that I should convince anyone to fear Reagan, but you have to wonder how effective this sort of ranting will be against the general populace. If this is the year of the Goldwater-Johnson analogy, let’s not forget that it’s Carter who is coming across the tube as the “hot” Goldwater candidate and Reagan the “cool” Johnson. President Jimmy desperately needs to demonstrate a little of that precious quality that has been so notable in its absence through his administration: leadership. Unless he can sum up at least a smidgen of it, Jimmy has a great future behind him. Which is why one has to take somewhat seriously Jack Anderson’s claims of a possible October invasion of Iran. Keeping in mind the past four years, ask yourself this: If Pat Caddell told Jimmy Carter on October 15 that his only hope of victory was to demonstrate leadership b l y taking military action in Iran, what do you think Carter’s response would be? ing it’s going to look terrible. Carter is in trouble in Texas. He can’t win the state without grassroots support.” She stressed the need to work for Democrats in Texas races, to pass a legislative program in the 1980 session, and to elect Rep. John Bryant, D-Dallas, to the speakership of the House. Asked whether she thought other liberal leaders in Texas would get behind the Democratic ticket Can said, “If Carter continues to be unpopular they will not be supporting him, they never do. Some local candidates are gonna put distance between themselves and Carter, and I’m gonna advise them to do it.” She said, however, that if liberal/progressives stay way from the campaign, then Reagan would win. “I don’t want Ronald Reagan. That’s reason enough.” Can summed up the prospects for unity: “Kennedy people really believed they were going to win. They were caught up in it. Some of them will be bit by the bug though, and they’ll be involved.” Others had already made up their minds. Barbara Morales, a Kennedy delegate from Houston, said, “I won’t be there in November. They’re not gonna get my support. I’m gonna fight for the ERA, go see Kennedy tonight, and cast my vote for Kennedy. The Carter people are saying now they are going to abolish the rule another added insult. It’s like they’re saying `We don’t need you,’ and if they don’t need us, all right. I just couldn’t work for him, my heart wouldn’t be in it. No chance I’d change my mind, I’m sitting this one out.” James Foret of Groves had awakened that morning and gotten ready to leave in disgust. “My bags are packed,” he said. Why? “I might be going back to Texas.” Later, he didn’t. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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