Marlboro Musings: A Presidential Recap

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Unless you’ve been trapped in an elevator or living in a cave for the last year or so, you’ve probably noticed that it’s Presidential Season. And boy what a wild one. What happened?  When did we get so mean? I was born in the 50’s, and when I was a kid, it sure wasn’t this spiteful. Hey, we even had comedian Pat Paulsen running every four years—six times! But these people today are getting out of hand. (Thanks for the punchline, Marco. So sad; we hardly knew ye.)

Anyway, as I sat watching the news and all the madness, I began to wonder, “Why would ANYONE want this job?” Then I began thinking back to the presidents I could personally recall, and how those elections turned out for us. And things began to make more sense, cause, folks, our record ain’t really too good over my half-century here.

Now, I was too young to fully understand until later what a positive vibe young President John Kennedy put on our culture. I just knew that life was good, and everyone was happy. There was promise in the air. Then, bam. He’s gone, along with our national innocence I now realize. At the time, however, I only recall that it was the first time I’d seen so many grownups crying at one time. And his death, especially watching the funeral on TV, drew my attention early. Been an avid Presidential watcher ever since. And I fear it went downhill from there.

Anyway, after JFK was gone, the constitution said vice president Lyndon Baines Johnson, ol’ LBJ, should take over, and he pushed for equal rights and good and all that– then slowly got us neck-deep into a war we could never win. But we were still Americans to the core back then and we rallied behind our country and our boys—until, that is, Walter Cronkite giving a body count became a staple in people’s lives, a daily dinner-time dose of ice-cold reality. Then, like so many draftees off to Canada, LBJ was gone, as in “I will not seek nor will I accept my party’s nomination”-gone. All I think he wanted to do was go back to his ranch in Texas and pick up some beagles by the ears.

With the presidential seat wide open in 1968, a rough campaign was expected, but it got even uglier than expected as our nation endured the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy within two months, and widespread civil unrest, then closed out the year by voting in three-time loser Republican Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon. He eventually ended American involvement in Vietnam and cracked open relations with China, but four years later, in a presidential campaign season that saw the shooting of candidate George Wallace as he sought to make Nixon a single-term president, Nixon went criminal—and stupid–to try to win a race in which he was a heavy favorite, and later, in fact, won by one of the largest landslides in US political history over George McGovern–by hiring, indirectly of course, third-rate wannabe burglars who got caught by a security guard at a place called the Watergate. That played out rather badly—a lot of it on tape, just not a few minutes that we really wanted to hear—anyway it was bye, bye, naivety; hello, cynicism; and eventually adios, Rickie “I am not a crook,” but I’m resigning anyway, Nixon.

But not before a nifty handoff to former Michigan college footballer and vice-president Gerald Ford was arranged, one that apparently included a prompt Hail Mary pardoning of Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. The Ford years were pretty much marked by his propensity to stumble a lot. Well, that and his getting shot at. Twice. Within three weeks. I don’t know about simpler, but it was sure a dang fool time.

In 1976, our nation’s bicentennial year, stung a little bit by all the negativity, we got all patriotic and swung the political pendulum the absolute other way, electing Democrat Jimmy Carter, a calm, peaceful, soft-spoken, son of the South, Georgia peanut farmer who smiled, yet stumbled, his way thru a single term as things deteriorated to the point where the American Embassy in Iran was overrun and 52 hostages spent 444 days in captivity. But his brother was a card—Billy Beer, anyone?—his mother was your grandmother, and Jimmy, well, he cared a lot about peace, and was just, well, nice.

Too nice apparently, because juuuust before Republican Ronald Reagan was sworn in after smashing Carter’s 1980 reelection bid, ol’ Iran decided they wanted NO PART of “Rambo Ronnie,” and basically said, “You know, we’ve held these nice people long enough,” and set those hostages free before Reagan’s hand could hit the Bible, and particularly before he could command forces. Ronnie didn’t play. Remember Quaddafi’s “Line of Death” in Libya, the one that Reagan sailed half the US Navy halfway around the world to cross, then conducted war exercises? Remember him shouting at the Russians, “Tear down this wall!”? And they did. We were bad to the bone planet wide for a while there. But they shot him, too.

Then, almost by default, we got Reagan’s vice president for, George H. W. “Read my lips: No New Taxes” Bush, for a few years who, after winning in 1988, once in office, raised taxes. But we were too busy getting brain-addled watching our first war live on TV, CNN 24/7, to be bothered by much else. (Quick tale: Remember triple-edge windshield wipers? The guy who invented them couldn’t get them to sell, so he sold the idea to another businessman who tripled the price, bought airtime on CNN—who the world was watching–during Gulf War I, and then had to open another manufacturing plant to keep up with demand. Or so it’s told.)

Anyway, GHWB ran a relatively quiet term—except for all the killing and maiming, of course, and it seems we then changed channels completely and settled in to collectively take an eight-year snooze on the sofa leaving Democrat Bill “Slick Willie” Clinton to carry on our affairs. Literally, it seems. Quite the entertaining chap, always, that one. But I liked Bubba; he was the kind of guy who would go out for a jog, and stop in at a McDonalds. That dude could pick your pocket, hit on a gal and play saxophone at the same time.

But his successor, Republican George ”Cowboy” Bush didn’t play, no sir; he had family business to take care of, some of it with the Saudi Royal family, not to mention a bone to pick with Saddam Hussein, who his daddy had left for killin’. And he rallied us after 9/11—then went straight after Saddam so fast the group who had orchestrated the attacks, Al Queda, in Afghanistan, grew jealous about not getting credit, and about went jihad on the boy themselves. But ol’ George the Second’s soldiers finally found him hiding in a spidey hole, drug him out and let that crowd over there string him up. Job complete.

But eight years in, it was time for George II to go–and time for us to heal, plus we were pretty much broke, so we joined as a nation and brought a new party into the White House with Democrat Barack Obama. And he’s done the best he can, I’m certain, but, c’mon, it’s impossible to please today’s masses. Close as he could get was his “We got him.” speech when Bin Laden was taken out. But there’s just no way anyone can appease everyone today, nor any way to avoid the backlash inherent in nearly every decision. And as Lincoln said, “If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Which leads us to the current national embarrassment as candidates vie for the Oval Office. And it’s truly shameful. There’s no other way to put it. Did you happen to see what the Republicans passed off as “debates”? Primarily childish and boastful postering to the point where a man’s hand size was questioned—and aggressively answered. It was so sad…yet I had to laugh wondering how many RPMs Ronald Reagan was turning in his grave. I could almost hear him uttering his catchphrase, “There you go again,” which he had used so masterfully in a 1980 debate against Carter.

At least on the Democratic side Hillary and Bernie are content—thus far, anyway–to play on a relatively civil undercard. But pesky Uncle Bernie refuses to go away, so that contest might get considerably more heated as we move toward the conventions.

No, it didn’t used to be like this, kids. Not this mean. And if this election deteriorates much more I fear this country will never be the same afterward, for either much better or much worse. Either one, or the other. Pray for much better. Because now that we’ve developed this super sensitivity, mixed with a tendency for hyper over-reaction to things we disagree with, to go along with our bloodlust for that which we seek, as well as social media and the Internet to organize and, usually, mis-inform, it’s all bets off. This could get ugly. And apparently, there’s no longer middle ground; instead that’s now a crossfire zone. Keep your head down.

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