Yawn, Jimmy Carter has done the impossible. He has invented boring hysteria.
He now says that if Ronald Reagan, the racist warmonger, is elected it will be a "catastrophe" and "too bleak to contemplate" (Carter's words, and typical of the campaign he calls "moderate in tone") because Reagan "might" (Carter can't be absolutely sure, and he is such a responsible fellow) separate "Jew from Christian."
The evident premise of Carter's campaign is that if he is relentlessly coarse, day in and day out, his coarseness will stop being news. He may be right. Long after his last campaign is just a fragrant memory, it will still interest scholars as a case study of how the public and the press react to a president's attempt to desensitize them.
There is this to be said, by way of extenuation, about Carter's shrillness: What else can he do? Talk about his record? It is (to borrow a phrase from the phrasemaker) "too bleak to contemplate."
Consider. The day that ended with his "Jew from Christian" outburst began with his bragging about how militarily strong he has made America. But when Carter touches an issue, it is like detonating dynamite in the mountains in winter: he is buried beneath an avalanche of awkward facts. Here are some such from Eugene Rostow of the Yale Law School, who was undersecretary of state during 1966069:
Between 1976 and 1979, U.S. military manpower declined from 4,438,000 to 4,220,000 while Soviet manpower increased from 14,665,000 to 14,785,000. U.S. heavy and medium tanks were increased from 9,181 to 10,867, but Soviet tank forces were increased from 42,000 to 47,000. The United States added nearly 3,000 armored personnel carriers, but the Russians, who have a 4-to-1 advantage, added 22,000. U.S. attack submarines were increased from 74 to 80, the Russians' from 252 to 266. U.S. frigates were increased from 64 to 67, the Russians' from 149 to 169. U.S. antitank weapons were increased from 5,300 to 15,500, Russia's from 14,000 to 22,500. Russia kept its anti-ballistic missile launchers at 64; the United States kept its at zero. U.S. SAM (surface-to-air-missile) launchers were reduced from 108 to zero; Russia's deployment remained at more than 9,000. The number of U.S. warheads deployed on ICBM's remained 2,154; Russia's deployments rose from 2,117 to 4,306.
Carter cannot be blamed for wanting to change the subject from defense to almost anything -- even the economy. But four years ago he said 6 percent inflation (half what he averaged this year) was "unacceptable." And the prime rate then was 7 percent. So, 'ey, let's change the subject to, well, how the racist warmonger Reagan will "separate" Jews from Christians.
The morning after that outburst, The Washington Post declared, "Jimmy Carter is campaigning like a politician gone haywire," with "frantic, overstated, boomeranging attacks." That evening it was reported that Carter had decided to temper his nastiness because it was hurting his campaign, a decision that called to mind the Watergate conspirator who told Sen. Ervin's committee that he had decided to start telling the truth because "only the truth would sell."
But in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters that evening, Carter was running true to form. He generously shared with Reagan the blame for the anti-Reagan name-calling that has lowered the tone of the campaign; he maganimously indicated that he bore no grudge against Reagan for the injuries he had done to Reagan; and then he repeated a wild misrepresentation of some Reagan statements.
Carter blamed his egregious excess on "human nature." There sure is a lot of that going around.
In the speech in which he said Reagan "might" divide Jew from Christian, he also said Reagan might divide "black from white" and "North from South" and "rural from urban." So that you can give your undivided attention to the World Series, I herewith preview some of the charges Carter will make as he works himself into a late-October frenzy. Carter, the Elmer's Glue that holds this rickety republic together, will charge that, if elected, Reagan will divide:
Capital from labor.
Methodists from Presbyterians.
Those who like yogurt from those wo don't.
Those who like boysenberry glop already stirred into their yogurt from those who like to stir it themselves.
Those who favor free coinage of silver at 16-to-1 from those who don't.
Those who like argyl socks from those don't.
Serbo Americans from Croatian Americans.
Pittsburgh Steelers from Dallas Cowboys.
Kramer from Kramer.
And so on . . . and . . . and on . . . .