Now that the rest of us have had our say about the election, my friend Eddie Lockett has an opinion to offer.
Edward B. Lockett used to cover Washington for Time-Life in the old days, and he has been closely associated with the political process for many years.
Lockett's theory about President Carter's defeat goes like this:
Carter had pounded home the allegation that it would be dangerous to put Reagan into the White House because Reagan might start a nuclear war and get us all killed.
Some people thought Carter was hitting below the belt but, on the whole, the campaign was effective. It was swinging votes toward Carter because Reagan's denials never caught up with the accusations.
But then, says Lockett, Carter made a fatal mistake. He repeated the warmongering charges during the debate and gave Reagan a perfect forum for making his denial heard. While 100 million people listened sympathetically, Reagan was given the opportunity to smile disarmingly and say "Now there you go again, Mr. President."
Millions in the TV audience concluded that Reagan didn't look like or sound like a warmonger. Several million votes swung to Reagan.
Lockett thinks that if Carter hadn't raised the warmongering issue during the debate, it wouldn't have been brought up at all. So in Lockett's opinion, "the Carter campaign, and Carter as president, were utterly inept to the end."
I give President Carter higher marks than those who think he was utterly inept. Carter did many things right, and I think history will be kinder to him than we are.
However, I do agree with Lockett's thesis that it was poor strategy to renew the warmongering attack during the debate, when viewers could see for themselves that there were no horns protruding from Reagan's forehead and no pitchfork in his hand.
Edward Bennett Williams is one of the best trial lawyers in America. When I asked him one night what advice he'd give a young lawyer trying his first case, Williams answered without hesitation: "I'd advise him: Never ask a question of a witness unless you know the correct answer in advance. Avoid the risk of getting a surprise answer that can ruin your case."
The analogy isn't precise, but it's close enough. Softballer Jimmy Carter served up a fat pitch that gave Reagan a chance to knock it out of the ballpark and then plaster an engaging Irish grin on his face and hold it determinedly in place until the TV cameras had made a "freeze frame" of it.
That's the image Reagan burned into the viewer's mind. He was just a nice, good-humored, friendly, peace-loving fellow who kept saying, patiently and politely, "Now there you go again, Mr. President."
Carter, meanwhile, appeared to be thinking about brother Billy.
I don't know who won the debating points, but it is quite clear who won the viewers. FOR THE RECORD
On Wednesday, I heard the governor of Virginia and two preachers dedicate The Washington Post's new $65 million satellite publishing plant in Springfield. All who spoke said they hoped God would guide the hands of those who work in the plant and help them bring the truth to The Post's subscribers.
Eugene Meyer, may God rest his soul, said pretty much the same thing the day he bought the bankrupt Washington Post at public auction during the great Depression. He said it would be The Post's mission to report the truth as best it could.
Editors and publishers make a hundred decisions a day, some major, some minor. It has been my privilege to have a ringside seat for viewing some of The Post's decision-making during the past 35 years, and one thing has impressed me greatly: Not only did we make a diligent attempt to do the "right" thing, we also tried to do the decent thing.
Eugene Meyer put great importance on aligning his newspaper with whatever side logic indicated was the right side. But he was equally determined to put us on the side of decency -- to make us ladies and gentlemen whose actions would always be appropriate, seemly, charitable, just, proper and fitting to the occasion.
How did a bankrupt paper grow to the status of today's Washington Post? I think one sentence explains it: Butch Meyer's philosophical heirs have been true to his legacy.