JIMMY CARTER blew it, right? He loused up the economy. He bungled the Iranian hostage situation. He shrugged his shoulders while his brother made a minor financial killing from a cozy White House connection. He broke his "Why Not the Best" promises and gave us the worst. Carter's was a hated presidency that brought forth oceans of dislike, and it was soundly rejected on election day.
Jimmy Carter really blew it, right?
It would be nice to think that the landslide victory given to Reagan and those moldy conservatives swept into Congressional power Tuesday was mostly the ultimate "Dump Carter" movement, and not much more. That would be comforting, but not completely true.
The glass isn't half empty, it's really half full. A lot of people apparently have a lot more in common with Ronald Reagan than they would like to admit.
The anti-Carter emphasis is understandable.
It's hard to say you're for Ronald Reagan when he admits he is anti-abortion and anti-ERA. It's hard to say you are for Ronald Reagan when he appoints a lily-white transition team of 25 men and two women. It's hard to say you're with the new Senate majority that rode to power on his coattails when Strom Thurmond immediately announces that as chairman-to-be of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he is for restoration the death penalty and against the Voting Rights Act in its present form.
Better to blame it on Carter than be associated with those kinds of things, right?
But the fact of the matter is that people have made a choice, and voting against Carter and for Reagan was apparently more important than voting against Reagan and everything he stands for. The bitter comes with the sweet. Ronald Reagan is president-elect not because Jimmy Carter was so bad, but because, to an overwhelming majority of Americans, Ronald Reagan was not that bad, afterall.
The voting booth represents one of the ultimate freedoms of expression, a place where the average man and woman can declare gut feelings out of sight and sound of potentially disapproving eyes and ears. The voters must have known what they were doing.
And the outcome of the election should not really come as a surprise. The conservatism that triumphed last Tuesday has been dramatically on the rise for many months. "We knew there were Archie Bunkers out there," an alarmed friend told me. "But we didn't know there were that many."
Now we know.
Ronald Reagan's approaching inauguration is the talk of the town in Black America. The prophecies of doom are endless. A key to the current pessimism of blacks is the time at which Ronald Reagan is ascending to power. The Ku Klux Klan is coming out of the closet, there are vicious, random murders of black children and adults. The rightwing Christian movement has organized itself and its antis include gays, women and minorities.
And the man who will pick the next head of the Justice Department and perhaps four members of the Supreme Court is one who said he grew up when the country "didn't even know it had a racial problem" -- like around 1919, the year of "The Red Summer," a period that ushered in the greatest period of interracial strife the nation had ever witnessed, with 25 race riots. One of the worst was in Reagan's homestate of Illinois where 15 whites and 23 blacks were killed; 178 whites and 342 blacks were injured.
Reagan's penchant for conjuring an idyllic America of a simple, bucolic past may have touched the emotions of many, but for others, it constituted a painful lie that denied their past suffering.
The country's real anxiety about inflation and widespread feeling of being in steadily worsening financial shape made it respectable to vote for economic change. But it had had the simultaneous effect of striking out at civil rights gains and social programs. Thus, if blacks are hurt in the bargain, the overwhelming answer seemed to blacks to be: tough luck. If women and minorities would suffer curtailed affirmative action, the voters thundered back: too bad.
The rising conservative tide already was operating among Democrats when they rejected Ted Kennedy because he was not far enough to the right. It will in all likelihood continue its course among the Democratic congressmen who can be expected to charge to the right in an act of political survival. For the Moral Majority and other conservative Republicans have had a mandate, and they have forewarned that they intend to make life difficult for liberal legislators in 1982.
Of course, I could be wrong in my dark view of the future. The man Rap Brown once called Lynch 'n' Burn Johnson changed his ways once inside the oval office. Reagan could fool us all and repudiate the schisms that were exhibited at the polls when blacks and Hispanics almost alone failed to desert the sinking liberal Democratic ship. It is almost unthinkable, for example, that Reagan won't make either a black or brown appointment to his staff, for example, or to the cabinet or the Suprememe Court.
The most potentially disturbing message from this week, the week that was, is the ominous threat to some of us Americans that a truly multiracial society where all are free to move into the mainstream.
Of course I could be wrong. But it sure would have been reassuring to see a black face on the first 27 appointments Reagan announced when he named his transition team.