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June 18, 2012

1980 All Over Again: As With Jimmy Carter, Media Returns to Narrative That Presiding Over Modern America is Impossible

JohnE. caught this this morning -- the Washington Post sobbing that the Presidency Is Just Too Big For One Man, noting that Newsweek tried to make the same darned case about Jimmy Carter in 1980.

James Taranto picks up this idea and finds more parallels in press spin for Jimmy Carter (and more Obama cribbing from Jimmy Carter's failed playbook.

"In the same years when presidential politics changed so greatly, governing did, too," writes the Times's Tom Wicker: "It got harder. . . . The rise of single-interest politics and independent legislators has made it more difficult to put together a governing coalition; sophisticated new lobbying techniques wielded on behalf of virtually every interest group further complicate the task. And a strong argument could be made that the major issues--energy and the economy, for instance--are more complex than they were."

Hey, wait a minute. Didn't Tom Wicker die last year?

Why yes he did. That quote came from a column he wrote in April 1980, the last time a Democratic president was in the midst of an unsuccessful re-election bid. And he's not the only one whose 32-year-old plaints sound awfully familiar.

Jimmy Carter was known for his bright smile.

"The Presidency today is entangled in the great crisis of all established authority," wrote Henry Graff, a Columbia University historian (now emeritus) in the Times July 25, 1980. "Executives of every kind--political, educational, ecclesiastical, corporate--are under incessant public attack." Those damn blogs! The president's life, Graff wrote, "is under such relentless scrutiny that he can only seem ordinary, never extraordinary. No man is a hero to his valet, and America is now a nation of valets."

Graff did not mention Twitter, blogs, Facebook and so on and so forth.

"Watching President Carter try to juggle all the contradictory foreign and domestic problems of the nation during a presidential election and an economic recession, you have to wonder who can do it and who can govern America," wrote James Reston, another Times columnist, in June 1980.

Reston, who died in 1995, concluded: "Carter's campaign theme is clear. It is that while the economic figures are not on his side, the economic 'trends' are changing for the better, and that, as he hopes to demonstrate in his meetings with world figures, he knows more about foreign policy than [Ted] Kennedy, Reagan or [John] Anderson."

And to point out the Very Obvious-- when Republicans are perceived as failing, the press attempts no similar defenses. In such cases, the job of the president is not impossible -- it's just that the current Republican office-holder has failed.

It is only when Democrats fail do we begin learning about how complex and difficult this job is -- impossible, actually.

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posted by Ace at 04:38 PM

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