Happy New Year: Welcome to 1948!

I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve, and so far your resolutions are still intact. I know everyone thought the calendar was switching over to 2012, but if you look more closely, I think we’re entering 1948 all over again. In that very year, Harry Truman waged a campaign for reelection that nobody thought he could win. The media, his Republican opponents, and many within his own party thought his candidacy was a lost cause. Yet, by campaigning on his predecessor’s policies, an arguably strong foreign policy and a Congress he dubbed the ‘do-nothing’ Congress, Truman managed to shock everyone and win.

Well here we are in 2012, and it’s hard not to make the same conclusions about this president. Obama, like Truman, is a Democrat who is seeking reelection in 2012. He is also battling a Congress with one of the worst legislative records in decades, arguably a ‘do-nothing’ Congress. And as November 2012 draws closer, it is looking like he is going to have an even more difficult time securing reelection. Does that mean if Obama campaigns on the same principles as Truman, he too can shock everyone and become a two term president? Probably not.

There are some tricks that Obama can take from the former Missouri farmer. He does need to link together the poor record of this Republican led Congress with the eventual Republican nominee. The country will need to believe that a Republican vote equates to a continuation of the lacklustre leadership of Congressional Republicans (that jab is for you, Mr. Boehner).

However, that is a very fine line to walk. Americans elected Obama to work together with Congress to fix the problems of that nation, and regardless of how difficult it may be to negotiate with them, he has equal blame for the current situation. Ultimately, his leadership is the one being evaluated in November 2012. The leadership and decisions of Congress (while still important) could be judged as being secondary. Not to mention, the economic outlook in 1948 was much better than it is now.

Obama and his team have a tough year ahead of them. It’s not that there haven’t been important achievements (Bin Laden’s death, an end to the War in Iraq, etc.) but there are many more unsolved issues, that are becoming increasingly problematic. The President’s masterful oratory used to be enough to inspire confidence that better times are ahead. Now, it just makes him appear more and more out of touch and unable to find a solution.

So what’s the answer? Well regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I personally think we all should be ashamed of the two parties. They both have a chance in 2012 to show how they can lead by example and put the needs of the country ahead of their own. A victory for either side will be meaningless if it comes at the expense of real and genuine progress towards a brighter future.

President Obama, the eventual Republican nominee, and everyone in the 112th Congress better shut up and get to work. 2012 can be a year of fantastic successes, or another year of embarrassing failures.

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Inspired by the following CNN article: http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/27/politics/obama-do-nothing-congress/index.html

Also, if you are on twitter, don’t forget to follow TOP (@theordinarypoli) and also go follow West Wing Report (@WestWingReport). It is a fantastic account with all sorts of facts about current and past administrations. Very interesting for anyone who enjoys presidential facts (in 140 characters or less).

No post about Truman is complete without one of the ultimate political 'Oh Snap' moments.

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What Makes Iowa So Great?

On the day of the Iowa Caucuses, I would like to hear your opinions in favour, or against the process. It has always troubled me that such a small state (just over 3 million people), with such a homogeneous population (91% white people) plays such an important role in determining who the nominee for president will be of each party. The time and money spent in Iowa is unthinkable, and a win or loss in that state’s caucuses can literally begin or end a campaign. A win in Iowa cements you as a legitimate contender for the presidency. But why? I know somebody has to kick off the primary season, but why not have a handful of states (maybe 15 or 20) go first? This way, no one state can play such an important role in determining who is the presumptive nominee.

Obviously, there are several examples of a candidate winning in Iowa and not becoming the nominee (right, Mr. Huckabee). But in most cases, the winner in Iowa becomes the legitimate frontrunner and is difficult to unseat, even if the impact of Iowa at the subsequent national convention is minimal.

I think there should be 5 primaries. Take the 50 states, divide them into 5 primaries (of 10 states each). Put as diverse a group as possible in each primary group, and shorten the season to 5 months (1 month to campaign in each group). Boom! Done. Wouldn’t that be a wonderfully simple, uncomplicated, and perfect system? I hope you can note the sarcasm.

In all seriousness, I do think there should be some reformatting of the selection process. Money and organization end up trumping ideas and leadership. But, I doubt that will happen at all, if ever, so let’s move on.

2011 in Review: Thanks to all who visited!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for The Ordinary Political.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 27,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Top News Stories of 2011

As 2011 comes to a close (insert cliche “OMG, I can’t believe it’s almost 2012, the year went by so fast, blah, blah, blah…”) a popular activity is to look back and evaluate the headlines which kept news outlets busy. Luckily for me, many websites compile their top stories in one place, making it easy to see which stories garnered the most attention.

I was not surprised by what I saw. In Canada, the CBC posted their most viewed stories of 2011, with Jack Layton’s final letter to Canadians, the Japanese tsunami, and Stephen Harper’s election victory placing first, second and third. In the United States, the top story was Osama Bin Laden’s death, followed by the Japanese tsunami, and the conflict in the Arab world.

The full articles from CBC and the Huffington Post are linked below. I am happy to report that the Royal Wedding is on neither list! Please let me know what you think the biggest or most important news story of 2011 was. Also what do you anticipate as the biggest story of 2012? (A ridiculous question, I know, but fun nevertheless.)

Also, if you’re so inclined, an article with 2011’s most outrageous and weird stories is also linked below. Happy New Year!

CBC Article
Huffington Post Article
Weird News Stories Article

P.S. I had a comment a while back about how the linked articles never open in a new tab or window, and instead redirect from the TOP webpage, making it difficult to go back and read the article. I have fixed this now, so all articles link to a new tab or window. Sorry for the annoyance.

Flashback Friday – Jimmy Carter

So far, I have authored nineteen Flashback Friday posts, and have yet to cover the one person who I originally wanted to make the very first Flashback Friday recipient (almost sounds like it’s some sort of award). Jimmy Carter is without a doubt my favourite American President. No, your eyes don’t deceive you, I said Jimmy Carter. For some odd, quirky reason, I find him to be an extremely interesting person. Perhaps it’s because I tend to have a thing for the underdogs, he is fascinating because while being incredibly brilliant, he is also incredibly dumb. One of the reasons I started the Flashback Friday posts was to educate readers on individuals that history often seems to forget about. Biographies about presidents like Carter do not fly off the shelves (in fact, I might be the only one who has a wishlist filled with Jimmy Carter books on Amazon).

With this post, I am going to do something different. Normally I spend some time researching each person, in order to get the facts of their life correct (and even then I sometimes get it wrong). But today, I am going to write this post strictly from memory, as I feel I know Jimmy Carter pretty darn well. I am currently reading his latest book White House Diary and as such, he is on my brain more than usual.

Born and raised in Georgia, Carter served in the Navy after high school. He met and married Rosalynn Smith, with whom he later had four children. His political career began in the 1960’s when he was elected to the Senate in Georgia. He then left the Senate with loftier dreams of becoming Governor of Georgia. This was a bit of a stretch, as he was hardly the most qualified candidate. He was simply a small town farmer, who had a little bit of political experience. His first attempt at becoming Governor failed, but he tried again and was elected in 1970.

His approach to governing is quite interesting. As I said earlier, he is an extremely bright, but stubborn man. He was very down to earth, and simple in his interactions with the people of Georgia. He was not affiliated with big business, and he often let his moral compass guide his decisions. This was refreshing to many. However, it often came at his own political expense. The best decision morally, is rarely the best decision politically. Unfortunately for Carter, when he made up his mind, it rarely changed, even if it would have benefited him.

After emerging from the shadows to become Governor of Georgia, Carter then set an even bigger goal for himself. He decided to run for president. Even his wife Rosalynn was shocked and dumbfounded at his decision. The Carter family had been a big reason why Jimmy was elected as Governor. He called upon them once again to aid his bid for the Democratic nomination. One of Carter’s most famous political ads showed people on the street asking “Jimmy who?” Most people had never heard of him before, and had little idea what he stood for. But there was one thing that helped Carter more than anything else… Watergate. Richard Nixon’s resignation had tainted Washington politicians, and nobody could accuse this small town Governor of being a Washington politician. Carter knew this was the case, and he milked it for all it was worth. He campaigned feverishly, and slowly but surely, worked his way up to becoming the Democratic nominee for President in 1976.

The fact that Carter went from almost total anonymity to being the Democratic nominee for President in just over a year is astounding. Many individuals work for years to build up the credentials for such a run, yet Carter was skilled enough to do it in twelve months. I am not sure it is something that can be duplicated ever again.

Carter faced Republican President Gerald Ford in the election of 1976. At the beginning of the campaign, Carter had an enormous lead. He was still riding the Watergate wave of disapproval towards the Nixon (and now Ford) administrations. Carter did make a few mistakes, which nearly cost him the election. He gave an interview to Playboy magazine where he said he had committed “adultery in his heart.” The only thing that truly saved Carter was a gaffe made by President Ford in the debates, where Ford stated “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” Needless to say during the Cold War this was a huge blunder. Carter went on to win the 1976 election, with a convincing, but not overwhelming victory.

On Inauguration Day, there was a feeling of optimism. The era of Watergate appeared to be over, and Carter acknowledged that with the first lines of his inaugural address. He thanked Gerald Ford saying “for myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.” Then later, he and Rosalynn walked along the inaugural parade route (tradition had been to ride in a car), as a sign of confidence in the American people. He was advised against it by the Secret Service, but did so anyways. Many presidents since then have done the same thing (although most only walk for a short distance).

Once in the White House, Carter brought in a staff that was mostly friends and trusted advisers from his time as Governor in Georgia. This was good because he had enormous trust in these people, but also bad because none of them had much Washington experience. He is arguably the most detail oriented president in history. He would spend hours, even days, studying the facts on a particular topic. This meant he was very knowledgeable, but also that he was often bogged down in the most irrelevant of details. Carter and his team had a long wish list of items they wished to accomplish. Energy, Healthcare, peace in the Middle East, a new SALT agreement, relations with China, battling inflation. They quickly moved to tackle all of these issues. While this looked good at the outset, it often meant the American people were bombarded with lots of policies, and few successes. For every success they had, there were two failures, because they attempted so much.

Another downfall of Carter was his lack of effective communication skills. He was not a stirring orator, and he often spoke the truth about a situation. That may be the honest thing to do, but it doesn’t win you any political points. Carter once addressed the nation in a passionate speech where he essentially blamed all of America’s problems on its citizens. An honest speech, and he wasn’t wrong. However, the American people do not appreciate their President, the person they elected to fix all their problems, blaming them for the current malaise, and telling them to get it together.

That being said, Carter did accomplish some very important things as President. Arguably the biggest, is the Camp David Accords which dealt with peace between Israel and Egypt. Carter masterfully orchestrated the negotiations which were held at Camp David. On numerous occasions, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin threatened to leave, but Carter was able to convince them to stay. After thirteen days of intense, near 24 hour negotiations, each side agreed to a common arrangement. Carter had pulled off what many thought was absolutely impossible. This section of White House Diary is particularly interesting. Carter nearly killed himself working so hard to get this completed, and he was very candid about how difficult the two sides were being during the negotiations. It was a tremendous accomplishment.

Carter, Sadat & Begin

By 1980, Carter was up for reelection, and things did not look good. He and his team kept making poor decisions which made the President look terrible. He was considered to be weak, ineffective, and ill-equipped to deal with many problems. He faced a suave, charismatic Republican opponent, who danced circles around Carter at the one debate they had. A previous debate had been held between Ronald Reagan and Independent candidate Jack Anderson. Carter refused to debate Anderson, and it made him look bad. Carter knew he was no match for Reagan, but thought if he could demonstrate a mastery of the issues (which he had, as he spent hours pouring over every detail) he could upstage Reagan. Unfortunately in one debate, he was unable to do so.

The final nail in Carter’s coffin perhaps occurred one year earlier when Americans were taken hostage in Iran. This was partly due to Carter’s support of the Shah. In the end, the hostages were held for over a year. Every attempt that the Carter administration made at freeing the hostages failed. It only perpetuated the viewpoint that they were not capable, weak and ineffective. The hostages were eventually released one minute after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President, as not to be released during Carter’s time in office. Although he doesn’t admit it in White House Diary, I can only imagine it was one of the most painful failures of his political life.

After he was defeated in 1980, Jimmy and Rosalynn returned home to Plains Georgia. Since leaving office, Carter has been one of the most active former presidents in recent memory. He has authored dozens of books, built the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, founded the Carter Center, won a Nobel Peace Prize and volunteered with numerous organizations. Many people agree that Jimmy Carter is a very good man, with strong values, but that he was just not prepared to be President. It is easy to look back and see where he often failed.

The first half of White House Diary is very optimistic. It reads as though Carter is easily going to win a second term. And in the early days of his administration, it very much looked like he could. But the tone begins to shift, and I can only imagine what it will be like by the end of the book.

What are your thoughts on Jimmy Carter? Failed president, or a good man that was in over his head? Do you see parallels between Carter and Barack Obama (young, inexperienced Democrats who followed unpopular Republicans, renewing optimism in tough economic times)? Is Obama doomed to the same fate?

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library
The Carter Center