Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Presidential Losers #45: Jimmy Carter and John Anderson

Usually a president will be strong in foreign policy and weak on economic policy, or else weak in fiscal policy and strong in international affairs.  Jimmy Carter was the rare president who proved equally effective in both.  

In a tiny insignificant country called Iran, students had taken Americans hostage.  Carter's rescue attempt, "Eagle Claw," accomplished little more than the deaths of eight servicemen.  

At home, energy prices were spiraling, making filling up the car and heating the house into major expenses, but with the interest rate topping out around 18%, Americans could console themselves that they probably couldn't afford a home or car anyway.  

Carter's response was a televised "fireside chat" in which he addressed the American people in a sweater.  The implied message seemed to be: if you want to stay warm, better get a sweater and build a fire.  Somehow this failed to reassure the voters.  Carter also put in solar panels, which President Reagan subsequently removed.1

The other candidate was a moderate Republican, John Anderson.  Like Carter, Anderson was a man of principle, willing to champion unpopular causes.  As with Carter this spelled inevitable defeat.  Anderson was not afraid of bipartisanship, going so far as to tell an audience he supported Carter's grain embargo to the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, he was speaking in Iowa, where the only thing folks hated worse than the Ruskies was the chance not to sell them grain.  Anderson got a measly 6.6% of the popular vote.  

Jimmy fared better, but not enough better, and Reagan won the biggest landslide by a non-incumbent candidate.


Result

Ronald Reagan: 489
Jimmy Carter: 49
John Anderson: 0

1. When Nixon was in the White House, he kept the air conditioner going so he could have a fire in the fireplace.  Now that was presidential!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Presidential Losers #44: Gerald Ford


See Footnote
The election of 1876 centered on the biggest presidential scandal up to that time - the engineered election of Rutherford "Rutherfraud" B Hayes.  For the Bicentennial, we out-did ourselves.  

As he was proud of saying about himself, Nixon was no quitter.  This is what he said the day he quit.  Vice-president Spiro Agnew, having earlier resigned in disgrace, Nixon selected Gerald Ford as the new VP.  He'd been second banana less than ten months before Nixon's resignation and his ascension to the top spot.  

In his speech accepting the presidency, Ford said, "Let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate."  Less than a month later, in a touching display of brotherly love and golden-rulism, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes "he may have committed against the United States."  

Lyndon Johnson once opined that Ford was too dumb to fart and chew gum at the same time, but this underestimated a canny economic mind.  Battling a sagging economy and rising prices, in a nationally-televised speech Ford introduced the "WIN" button, urging Americans to wear the red-and-white button standing for "Whip Inflation Now."  

It is unclear how many Americans actually wore the button, but no economist has ever been able to calculate the effect wearing these buttons had on the nation's economy.  

Against Ford was a relative unknown from Georgia, Jimmy Carter; but following years of political scandal that seemed to touch virtually every politician in DC, the last thing Americans wanted was a known.  Given this, it's surprising Carter didn't have a bigger victory, winning by the popular vote by a margin of only 2 percent, but a win is a win is a button.

Result

Jimmy Carter: 297
Gerald Ford: 240

Footnote: One of the great non-stories of Ford's presidency was the supposed inability of political cartoonists to caricature him.  It was really no big deal, however; as Atlanta Journal cartoonist Clifford "Baldy" Baldowski pointed out, drawing Gerald Ford was basically the same as the Frankenstein monster without those little bolts coming out of his ears.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Presidential Losers #43: George McGovern

Energized by pressing issues of the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and the Economy, voters stayed home in droves.  The '72 election had the lowest voter turnout in 20 years.  Only 55% of the voters turned up, but those 55% went solidly for Richard Nixon, thanks largely the efforts of a committed group of idealists called the Committee to Re-Elect the President or CREEP1 

The folks at CREEP had a number of cool ideas.  Possibly the coolest was after the attempted assassination of George Wallace; Nixon suggested scattering Democratic campaign literature at the crime scene to make it look like the liberals were behind the attempted murder of America's most beloved segregationist.  This plan never panned out, but enough ideas came to fruition that the Democrats were pretty much sabotaged coming and going.  

To wit, breaking into a psychiatrist's office uncovered the juicy tidbit that the vice-presidential candidate, Thomas Eagleton, had received electroshock therapy for depression.  Americans were rightly outraged at Tom's lack of gumption, if you're depressed, by golly, then just cheer up!2  

Eagleton was dumped and replaced with Sargent Shriver, whom many Americans thought was an album by the Beatles and others a famous canine movie hero similar to Rin-Tin-Tin.  

The highpoint of CREEP's antics was a bungled break-in of Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel.  (The burglars found nothing of use, by the way.)  

All of this came to light during the Watergate Hearings, during which, a crucial piece of evidence were tape-recordings that Nixon himself had authorized.  This really calls into question whether it was Nixon or Eagleton who was more in need of psychiatric counseling.  Being a criminal may not necessitate a genius IQ, but at least it calls for a minimum of non-dumb-ass-ness.  By God, if you're going to subvert the Constitution, then for heaven's sake, don't freaking tape-record your conversations.  Not since presidential loser James Blaine was brought low by an incriminating letter ending with the instructions "burn this letter," has any political felon shown such wild disregard for common sense.

In the meantime, it was a landslide with McGovern under it.  McGovern didn't even win his own state of South Dakota.

Result

Richard Nixon: 520
George McGovern: 17

1. Nixon's campaign staff had many abilities, but coming up with good acronyms wasn't one of them. 
2. It was put about that Eagleton told an interviewer that McGovern was in favor of "amnesty, abortion, and acid."  This is untrue.  Eagleton distinctly said "pot" not "acid."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Presidential Losers #42: Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace

Hubert Humphrey
Alabama Governor, George Wallace split from the Democratic party and ran as an independent, appealing to any voters who still missed the good ol' days of racial segregation.  There turned out to be about ten million of them.

George Wallace
Humphrey had a hard time as LBJ's former veep, because the nation had turned on Johnson like milk left out on a radiator overnight.  The Great Society wasn't working out so great, and the Vietnam War was an enormous liability for Johnson, which is why he decided not to run.  Protesters around the nation chanted "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"  Which is kind of stupid because if the protesters wanted to know, they could just watch it on tv like anybody else.  

Nixon ran on a "law and order" campaign (which meant he wasn't going to put up with these damn protesters) appealing to the "silent majority" (which meant all the people willing to sit down and shut up).  Democrats said "law and order" was a code word for racism, but that's not fair.  The racism candidate was clearly George Wallace.  

Nixon proposed ending the draft, which he figured would quell the protests, since he thought it was mostly rich kids in the demonstrations.  Poor kids, he figured, wouldn't protest; being poor is a full-time job, and doesn't leave time for sit-ins.

Humphrey began denouncing the Vietnam War, and on Halloween got  a boost in the polls when Johnson announced an end to the bombing and a possible peace deal.  The deal fell through, and Johnson believed that Nixon had sabotaged the Paris peace talks by promising South Vietnam sweeter terms under a Republican administration.  This, however, is just raw paranoia on Johnson's part; to believe that, you might as well think Nixon would use the IRS to harass political enemies or spend campaign funds digging up dirt to discredit opponents.  

Political sage Foster Brooks credited Hubert's loss to poor timing; he happened to run at the same time as Richard Nixon.  If the election had been a day earlier or a day later, Hubert would have been in the White House.  

Result

Richard Nixon: 301
Hubert Humphrey: 191
George Wallace: 46

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Presidential Losers #41: Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater was a serious thinker who profoundly altered American politics.  Ridiculing such a man would be a cheap shot.  We're going for the cheap shot. 

Goldwater started the race about four laps behind.  The assassination of JFK meant incumbent Johnson's candidacy had a powerful emotional impetus behind it.  On top of this, Kennedy had lowered taxes, lifting us from a recession - and on the Civil Rights front, he'd faced down Governor Wallace in Alabama over integrating the University of Alabama.  On foreign affairs, he'd been less than stellar: a google search reveals that "fiasco" is the word that most commonly follows Bay of Pigs. 

Back to Goldwater.

His most famous quotation is "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation is no virtue," a paraphrase of Cicero.  Another great quotation was, ""Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea."  (Goldwater was from Arizona.)  Nor was Goldwater  shy about the possibility of using nuclear weapons, once saying, "Let's lob one into the men's room at the Kremlin as an example."  

Democrats paraphrased his campaign slogan, "In your heart, you know he's right," to "In your guts, you know he's nuts."  A famous anti-Goldwater ad showed a little girl plucking petals off a daisy followed by a montage of mushroom clouds.  Not until the film "Bambi Meets Godzilla" was there another such juxtaposition of innocence and destruction.

After his defeat, Goldwater returned to the Senate and pursued his interests in Hopi "Kachina" dolls (he collected over 430) and UFOs.  Goldwater was convinced that the Air Force was covering up knowledge of extraterrestrial visitors, later telling Larry King "They may not look like us, but I have very strong feelings that they have advanced beyond our mental capabilities."

Hearing chilling speculation of smarter-than-Goldwater outer-space aliens, Larry cut to a commercial.

Result

Lyndon Johnson: 486
Barry Goldwater: 52

Friday, June 26, 2015

Presidential Losers #40: Richard Nixon

For a lot of people 1960 was the beginning of an era in a way that 1940, 1950, and 1970 weren't.  A lot of that had to do with the defeat of Nixon by Kennedy.  

Nixon had a better resume, but he just couldn't seem to catch a break.  For starters, the country happened to be in a recession, and then Eisenhower offered only lukewarm support.  Actually, lukewarm is too strong a word.  Eisenhower would have needed to heat it up to get to lukewarm.  When asked what ideas Nixon had contributed to the president, Eisenhower said, "If you give me a week, I might think of one."  

The supposed "turning point" was the televised debates when a stubbly-faced, pale Nixon went up against John F Kennedy. 1

 But the real turning point was election night itself.  In spite of the lopsided electoral vote, Kennedy won the popular vote by less than one tenth of one percent.  Republicans cried foul, saying Kennedy had benefited from widespread fraud in Chicago and Texas.  (Had Nixon won these two, he would have carried the electoral college.)  

For example, the patriots in little Fanin County in Texas, with only 4,895 registered voters, cast over 6,000 votes.  Chicago Mayor Daley, whose political machine routinely delivered whopping victories to Democrats held back a lot of the Chicago vote until the morning of November 9th.  

When the votes were "counted" - a lot of the ballots seem to have disappeared - Kennedy had won Chicago with a ten-percent margin, overcoming Nixon's victory in the rest of the state.  Although things smelled fishy, subsequent reports said it didn't smell of an entire tuna, which would have been enough to say the election was actually stolen.  In a recount, the only state that went to Nixon from Kennedy was Hawaii.

Result

John Kennedy: 303
Richard Nixon: 219

1. The F stood for "Freaking Beefcake."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Presidential Losers #39: Adlai Stevenson

Yep, in spite of having his butt whipped by Eisenhower the first go-round, Stevenson came back for another butt-whipping four years later.  For such a smart guy, Stevenson wasn't very bright.

Eisenhower had gotten us (mostly) out of the mess in Korea, declaring it a tie.  He sent 900 military advisers to help out some little country no one had ever heard of called South Vietnam where the French army had mucked things up as per usual.  But the North Vietnamese, or whatever they called themselves, were a dip-squat insurgency, and we could be sure we'd never have any serious trouble out of them.  

So all in all, the Eisenhower presidency suited everyone just fine, and Stevenson had as much chance as Frosty the Snowman on vacation in Havana.  The most interesting side-show of the election revolved around Ike's VP and future presidential loser, Richard Nixon.  

Nixon had been accused of mishandling campaign funds and pressure was mounting in the Republican party to drop him from the ticket.  His political survival on the line, Nixon gave a televised address which deserves to go down in history alongside Antony's funeral oration for Caesar as one of the most brilliant and effective examples of rhetoric ever written.  

With a masterful blend of class envy, self-pity, and counter-attack, Nixon completely turned the tables on his political opponents.  At the end of his speech, he confessed to having received a campaign gift he would never return - a black-and-white cocker-spaniel named "Checkers," which his daughter loved.  

By this point, tears were rolling down the cameraman's cheeks.  And Eisenhower, watching from the White House, knew he could never dump Nixon from the ticket.


Result

Dwight Eisenhower: 457
Adlai Stevenson: 73