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Apparently all I can think of to write about these days is the books that I read. Incredibly boring, but I figure it is worth sharing. The book I just finished was one I picked up a few years ago at a used book sale for fifty cents. An awesome bargain, I thought. A while back I saw it sitting on my shelf and thought I should give it a try. If you have been reading TOP for a while, you will know the odd, unexplainable fascination I have with Jimmy Carter. An absolute dud of a president, but for whatever reason, I find him very interesting. By association, I also find his wife Rosalynn very interesting too. Here is a woman who could barely speak to a crowd of more than two people when she was a young woman, eventually growing into her roles as Navy wife, business partner, Senator’s wife, First Lady of Georgia and ultimately First Lady of the United States. Like her husband, Rosalynn is a kind woman driven by her religious and moral beliefs. The fact that she and her husband rose from the small town of Plains, Georgia to the White House is part of the reason I find them so fascinating.

Rosalynn’s memoir First Lady from Plains was published in 1984. This is the first memoir I have read by a First Lady, so I have nothing to compare it to. However, it is an extremely easy read, and I could often hear Rosalynn’s character southern accent in my head as I read. She is frank, and honest about her life thus far. She obviously believes the country made an enormous error in not reelecting her husband, but recognizes some of the reasons why he failed to win a second term. While the book reveals no major bombshells, and is mostly accounts of how she planned parties, raised a daughter in the White House and championed the causes close to her heart, I am still extremely glad I read it.

For me, some of the most fascinating things to read about are the behind the scenes details of life as the first family, or life in the White House. We always see the president working in the Oval Office, meeting with his cabinet, meeting with world leaders, but rarely do we get to see the personal side of life in the White House. I completely understand why this is. Obviously the first family deserves as much privacy as possible, but I still can’t help but wonder what it must be like. Memoirs such as this provide such a glimpse inside a world we are never invited into.

So, should you pick up Rosalynn Carter’s memoir, and begin reading it right away? Probably not. I suspect most of the general public have zero interest in reading about a one-term first lady, from 40 years ago. But I thought I would share my random thoughts on the situation. I would like to get my hands on memoirs from other First Ladies to see how they compare to this one. Hopefully I can find others for the same low price, as this one!


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.


Inspired by the following CNN article:

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.

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

Huntsman Daughters to the Rescue

Wow, it has been quite a while since a new post was put up. What a terrible blogger I have become. School has been quite busy, and I seem to have convinced myself that is the reason I have not been posting. Yet I am about two weeks into a quiet period of very few tests and assignments, and yet no new post. I hate to admit it, but I think I might be losing inspiration. Everything I can think to write about seems old and repetitive. Much of the buzz in the U.S. right now (and what I personally find most interesting) is the GOP race for the 2012 nomination. All these crazy Republicans running around the country, making gaffes and looking ridiculous. I considered writing unbiased, substantial pieces on each of them, but quickly squashed that idea when I realized I really can’t stand any of them.

Up here in Canada, there isn’t much that is interesting me. The Conservatives are ramming through legislation with their new majority government. We have a new female premier in Alberta (which now gives us three female provincial leaders!) but even that hasn’t been enough to motivate me into authoring a post.

Over in Europe, there continues to be one calamity after another. I have stayed away from European issues, as I don’t know that part of the world as well, and quite simply, I don’t find it nearly as interesting. And since this is my blog, I can decided what to post.

But there was one story that oddly enough, prompted me back to the keyboard. CNN put up a story about former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s ‘Secret Weapons’. This was interesting, because Huntsman (unless every other candidate ahead of him in the polls self destructs) has no chance of winning the nomination. But that hasn’t stopped his (fame seeking?) daughters from jumping onto twitter and other social media sites to promote their Dad’s campaign. As the article notes, family involvement in a political campaign is nothing new. In fact, it is almost expected that when your parent or spouse runs for a political office, you generally help them out. However, it appears that the Huntsman girls are really committed to this, and believe they can help their Dad win.

I give them credit for helping out their father, but I highly doubt these girls will help to push him up in the polls. Perhaps they want to turn this new found fame into a t.v. deal on E! It doesn’t hurt that they are attractive looking girls. To contrast, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has five sons, who are helping with his campaign, although they don’t appear to be as organized and committed as the Huntsman daughters. Nevertheless, for some reason I found this story interesting. The link to the CNN article is below. What do you think? Will their involvement help their Dad’s campaign? How important is the role that families play in an individual’s candidacy?

Also, I want to know what other stories I should post about. I refuse to let this slump that I am in stop new posts from going up. What topics would you like to read about. Do you care about the GOP debates and candidates? Are you interested in the 2012 election, even though it is still roughly one year away? What about issues in Canada? Is there anything of significance going on right now? I also quite miss the Flashback Friday posts. They were without question my favourite posts to write, and hopefully they will make a return in the near future.

Thanks to everyone who has been visiting each day, only to see the same old, stale content. I really do appreciate it.

Flashback Friday – Bob Dole

This week, TOP was monopolized with coverage of the Canadian federal election. Campaigns are so exciting for me, and while I could cover nothing but that for the next month and a few days, we all need a break every now and then. There are still lots of days left in the campaign, so let’s talk about something else today. A couple of weeks ago I featured Adlai Stevenson, the twice nominated Democratic candidate for president, who failed to beat Dwight Eisenhower. Today, I thought we would look at another individual who had multiple chances at the top job in the United States, but could never get the job done. However, this time he is a Republican. Bob Dole began his political career in the Senate, where he worked his way up the ranks, and gained national attention. He was selected as Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976, but the two lost the election to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. He then served as Majority Leader in the Senate, and got his own chance to become president in 1996, when he was the Republican party’s nominee. Dole lost the election to incumbent Bill Clinton, and effectively retired from politics after that.

As with sports, politics seems to have people that sit around and do nothing but come up with odd, quirky and often irrelevant facts. For Dole, historians have noted that he is the only person to be nominated for both president and vice president by his party, but to have lost both. Not something you would like to be remembered for. Dole was born in Kansas in 1923. He attended high school, then moving to the University of Kansas. There he studied law, and later went on to attend the University of Arizona, after returning from service in WWII. He concluded his schooling with a degree in law in 1952.

His political ambition spoke to him, and he was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1950. He served out his two year term, then practiced law once he completed it. But he then returned to politics, this time winning election to the United States House of Representatives in 1960. By 1968, his political career was continuing, this time in the Senate. He won election, still representing his home state of Kansas. During his time in the Senate, Dole wore many hats. He served as the Chair of the Republican National Committee, he was minority leader from 1987-1995 and was majority leader twice, from 1985-1987 and 1995-1996. While his time in the Senate can be regarded as very successful, his attempts at presidential politics were not.

1976 Republican Convention L-R Bob Dole, Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, Betty Ford

In 1976, President Gerald Ford selected Dole to be his running mate. Ford’s then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, declined to be included on the ticket. Dole’s inclusion helped to pick up some support from the midwest and southern states, as Ford hailed from Michigan. Ford and Dole faced a steep hill to climb to win the election, and neither was a very strong campaigner. While they narrowed the gap come election day, they still lost to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Dole returned to the Senate, and prepared himself to run for the nomination of the Republican party. Trouble was, there were several other candidates who were also prepared to run, and one almost had a lock on the nomination. In 1980, Ronald Reagan took the nomination, and Dole barely received any support. Reagan’s challenge of Gerald Ford in 1976 had put him as the presumptive front-runner in 1980.

So once again, Dole returned to the Senate. This time he served as minority and majority leader before he once again ran for the nomination of the Republican party for President of the United States. In 1988, the White House was vacant, and Dole put his name forward. In this contest, Dole waged a better fight. His main opponent was Vice President George H.W. Bush. The two were nearly equal in the polls, and each won primary contests. But Bush had a team that was more experienced and effective. Dole was still a terrible campaigner, and did not come off well towards the media. He was once again bested for the nomination.

As he had done twice before, Dole returned to the Senate, where he kept getting reelected quite easily. Six year terms afforded him the luxury of not having to fight a campaign very often. In the back of his mind though, Dole was still contemplating a run at the presidency. He had to wait at least 8 years, as that would be the first opportunity for an open Republican nomination (regardless of whether President Bush had been reelected in 1992). As such, when his chance came again in 1996, Dole once again threw his hat in the ring. By this time, he was 73 years old. Not a young fellow. But the Republican party had nominated Ronald Reagan when he was in his 70’s, and we all know how well he did. He benefited from the fact that there were no big names contesting the nomination. In 1980 he battled Reagan, Bush, Baker and more. In 1988 he battled Bush and Robertson. But in 1996, the nomination was pretty much his. He secured the necessary votes, and faced off against President Clinton.

During the general election campaign, President Clinton was better funded, better prepared and a more effective communicator. While Dole was fighting for the nomination, Clinton was running ads against him, promoting his record, and pointing out what a conservative Dole was. And while Reagan’s age never really became an issue, Dole’s did, especially after he fell off of a stage at a campaign rally. In the end, Clinton won a decisive victory and returned to the White House. After 4 attempts, at one of the top jobs in Washington, Dole had failed again. And because he had resigned his Senate seat to run for president, he was officially out of a job.

Dole campaigning for John McCain in 2008

Dole retired from politics after his 1996 defeat. He has remained active as a partner at a Kansas law firm. He also helped to establish the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. It is recognition of Dole’s time spent as a student at the University, as well as his time as a Senator, representing Kansas. The University also houses all of Dole’s Senatorial papers, and documents of the like, almost like a presidential library.

Today Bob Dole is 87 years old, and by most accounts is still quite healthy for his age. In 2000, his wife Elizabeth Dole, who was also a Senator, followed in her husband’s footsteps and ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2000. She lost to George W. Bush though. Dole was previously married to Phyllis Holden from 1948 to 1972, and the two had a daughter together. Bob Dole has a proud record of serving his country, during WWII and in politics. While he was never president, he accomplished much in the Senate, that will keep him in the history books for a while.