Friday, August 15, 2008

American Voters Face Familiar Choice

For those of you who are younger than 50, you have a unique opportunity to learn American history. The election of 1976 is being restaged with Barack Obama as Jimmy Carter and John McCain as Gerald Ford. This is not a virtual election; this is for real, and your vote counts.

It's important to remember 1976 for another reason -- the economy. If you are younger than 50, then you haven't lived through a real economic recession. Today's economy is taking its licks from the sub-prime mortgage spree. But 30 years ago, U.S. Treasury notes carried interest rates as high as 14 percent. Try borrowing mortgage money at 15 percent or 20 percent and see what your house payments are. Then watch gasoline double in price as it did in 1979. It was heck.

You can fret all you want about today's high gasoline prices, but the economy is healthy when compared to 1976, and this is why you should be concerned about the upcoming revival of Ford vs. Carter. You are going to vote for the man who loses control of the economy.

Gerald Ford was a good man, but he couldn't inspire an angel to do a good deed. He neither had a command of economics nor did he have the best of economic advisers. Ford's solution to the economic woes of his day was to ask people to wear "WIN" buttons--WIN stood for Whip Inflation Now.

Compare this lame message to Margaret Thatcher's during that era. When she visited Lech Walesa during Poland's uprising, she gave him a copy of F.A. Hayek's book "The Road to Serfdom." That small gift inspired a trade unionist to lead his nation out from under the yoke of Soviet communism.

I can still hear Maggie Thatcher saying, "WIN buttons, indeed."

Gerald Ford also was viewed as a continuation of the Nixon White House, although nothing could be further from the truth. Ford tried to do the best thing for the nation by pardoning Richard M. Nixon, and however noble were his intentions, he lost the election primarily for this one act. People hated Nixon. George W. Bush is merely disliked by comparison.

John McCain is viewed as nothing more than a continuation of the Bush administration although nothing could be further from the truth. John McCain is Gerald Ford.

Enter Jimmy Carter, the candidate for change. Do you recall the motion picture "Being There" in which Peter Sellers plays Chance, the mentally disabled gardener, and through a series of misunderstandings, he becomes a national guru? This describes Jimmy Carter -- the boy who ran away from a traveling idiot circus and then demonstrated a knack for growing peanuts, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jimmy Carter edged out better-known candidates for the 1976 Democratic nomination. The field was very crowded that year; his opponents only had regional appeal. Carter used his born-again, come-to-Jesus message to give him an advantage in every state. Though he was personally unable to explain the demands of the Good Book to his own family (Do you remember his brother, Billy?), Jimmy Carter was charismatic. Jimmy Carter was as charismatic by his humility as Barack Obama is charismatic by his arrogance.

Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter, right down to having a mean, vindictive wife.

Like Ford and Carter, McCain and Obama share a complete lack of aptitude for economics. And worse, we don't know who their primary economic advisers will be. Remember for the moment that Bill Clinton started his first term by appointing Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as Treasury secretary. When that proved a Texas-sized joke, Clinton made amends by appointing Robert Rubin. Bill Clinton's economic success was due solely to the confidence that the financial markets had in Secretary Rubin.

If there is an exception when comparing Ford vs. Carter to McCain vs. Obama, then it would be that the major parties have nominated two senators who serve in a Congress that has an overall approval rating of just 14 percent. How pathetic is that?

Offsetting this minor difference is the fact that the Republicans and Democrats once again are telling voters they have a clear choice when it comes to selecting the next president. If we do have a clear choice this time, then it will be defined by degrees of failure.

I don't know about you, but I will not let the major parties railroad me into choosing between Ford and Carter again. On Nov. 4, I am writing in "Ricky Bobby" for president, and I will do so, knowing in my heart, that if he ain't first, he'll be last.