The Spirit Of '80

I hope I can get this published before the caucuses start in Iowa…

I was interested in politics from a very early age. I was eight when I supported Jimmy Carter in his quest for the presidency, and actively argued for his defeat at the age of twelve. And I remember pretty clearly how I felt about the 1980 election.

I don’t recall all the candidates who ran then. I remember Jimmy Carter was seeking re-election, and NOBODY wanted four more years of him. (If you need any reminders of the glories of the Carter administration, I give you the “triple doubles” — inflation, unemployment, and interest rates all over 10%, the Iranian hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics just to remind you of how miserable Mr. Nobel Peace Prize left this country.) He was challenged by Teddy Kennedy, whose campaign was going along swimmingly until some reporter asked a totally unfair question (“why do you want to be president?”) and he went right off the bridge into the drink.

On the Republican side, I remember three candidates. John Anderson ended up running as an independent. And of the other two, I was solidly behind one of them.

My guy had an amazing resume’, quite possibly one of the best for any presidential candidate in decades. He also had a nice sense of moderation, a willingness to eschew partisanship and ideology for doing what he thought was the right thing to do. The fact that he was also a veteran and war hero was largely irrelevant; we’d only had one president since World War II who hadn’t served in that war, and Jimmy Carter had been a Navy man — a nuclear engineer, no less, who’d served in subs.

So I proudly backed George Bush (former congressman, ambassador to the UN and to China, and CIA director) for the New Hampshire primary.

And he got the living crap beat out of him by Ronald Reagan.

Then, at the Republican National Convention Reagan did a thing of extraordinary grace. (Well, extraordinary for most people. But Reagan did so many acts of grace, this one didn’t really stand out.) He tapped his primary rival (the man who hung the name “voodoo economics” on Reagan’s principles), George Bush, to be his vice-president. And Bush, whose family motto ought to be “loyalty,” turned out to be quite possibly the best possible veep for Reagan.

Then, when Reagan finished his second term, Bush stepped up to run again. By now, I’d lost my enthusiasm for Bush. The man running in 1988 was trying to run as Reagan II, and it just didn’t fit. I found myself wondering what the hell happened to the guy I’d supported just eight years ago. I think I supported Jack Kemp in the primary. But when my guy didn’t win (again), I held my nose and voted for Bush. (And (yuk) Dan Quayle. There was no way I could even think of voting for Michael Dukakis.)

I’m getting a little whiff of 1980 again, and I think I like it. While most of the Republicans are trying to cast themselves as the “New Reagan,” one of them comes out more Reaganesque than the rest of them put together.

Hollywood actor? Check. Formerly held elected office? Check. Successful in a third field? Check. Considered somewhat dim and old and lazy by the media and his detractors? Check. Easygoing charm and ready wit? Check. Strong conservative principles, without being a prick like Pat Buchanan? Check. Speaks kindly about religion, without being overly religious himself? Check.

Now, if Fred Thompson were to get the Republican nomination (I’ll be doing my bit, next Tuesday morning, when I cast my vote for him), he ought to consciously emulate Reagan once again and tap one of his rivals for the vice-presidential spot. There’s one candidate who balances his weaknesses better than any other — a proven, gifted leader and a guy with a true head for business and organization. And what better person to oversee a divided (or possibly Democratic) Senate than a former governor who’d had to deal with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature?

Thompson/Romney ’08. That’d be a bumper sticker I’d plaster all over my vehicle. And any other vehicles I could get away with putting it on.

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