On the road from Concord to Hanover, the day bright, the New Hampshire woods and streams splendid, the car radio blaring, the local announcer comes on cheerily to say:
"Now for the latest on the Iranistan crisis."
He didn't have to explain the crisis or that strange amalgam of a word. Everyone, everywhere would know exactly what he meant. Subconsciously or otherwise, it has become a part of all our lives.
In the history of the presidency, there has been nothing like the last 100 or so days. Wind the clock back and freeze the moment.
It's the first weekend in November. The annual inflation rate creeps up and now runs at 13 percent, while unemployment continues to rise slowly. Investors are talking about "gold bugs," and closely watching the prices in Zurich. Gold closes that weekend at $373 an ounce there. Homeowners are grappling with the effects of the tight-money policies instituted a few weeks before when the Federal Reserve raised the prime interest rate, affecting all borrowing from banks.
As usual, the big news of the day deals with violence -- the aftermath of Korean President Park's assassination, the murder of four people at an anti-klan rally in Greensboro, N.C., a plane crash killing 74.
More substantive news concerns politics. It's exactly one year away from the first presidential election day of the next decade; the papers are filled with "dope" stories about what it all means.
The first test will come in Iowa, some 79 days away. Although Sen. Kennedy has not become a formal presidential candidate, it's known he intends to enter the race this week in Boston. In Iowa, he still comfortably leads President Carter: the last statewide poll there shows him beating Carter by 49 to 26 percent.
Kennedy dominates the political news. On the front page of The New York Times, the latest CBS/Times poll has him attracting even more Democrats to his standard: "Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who will begin his formal campaign tomorrow, confounded the expectations of President Carter's supporters and widened his lead over Mr. Carter and Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. . . ." The latest Gallup Poll taken that weekend showed that, nearly 2 to 1, Americans disapproved of the way Carter was handling his job as president.
To avoid being compelled to give air time to other candidates because of the equal-time law for political broadcast, CBS has moved up its documentary, "Teddy," to 10 o'clock that Sunday night. Roger Mudd will question the senator, and Gerald Rafshoon, Carter's advertising specialist, is unhappy. He publicly expresses annoyance with the CBS decision, and especially with the three networks' refusal to sell a half-hour of time for a Carter political broadcast that week.
In the news, but not attracting much attention, are reports about the treatment being given the deposed shah of Iran in New York. When he was overthrown earlier in the year, he had been invited to come to the United States. He chose to stay in Morocco temporarily in hopes he soon would be returned to power. But then, when it quickly became clear the revolution was lasting, he sought to come here. He was denied entry.
Carter, as he later explained it, "knew about the vulnerability of Americans in Iran if the shah should come here." With American help, the shah settled in Mexico. Then, at the end of October, Carter was notified the shah was suffering an illness that might be terminal and the only place he could get adequate treatment was New York. He decided to admit the shah, and notified the Iranians. They didn't like it, and said so, but gave assurances Americans in Iran would be protected.
That Sunday morning in November the hostages were taken.
Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. Inflation spurts ahead even more; the January jump, if continued, would bring an annual rate of 19.2 percent. Unemployment is higher. Gold, after nearly trippling in price still stands almost double what it was 100 days ago. Economic forecasts remain gloomy.
Internally, America has been both awakened and sent into a spasm at times approaching hysteria. Now there's official talk of war and the possibility of reinstituting the draft. The president's national security affair adviser peers down rifles at the Khyber pass. Pakistan's President Zia, the same man whose forces were so slow in responding to the sacking of the American Embassy and the slaying of a marine there in November, becomes ardently courted as our new ally.
And with the hostages held and Afghanistan invaded, the most stunning reversal of political fortunes in American history has occurred. While the president remained in the White House, giving only two press conferences and one address to the nation (the constitutionally required State-of-the-Union one), the percentage of Americans who approved the way he handled his job is totally reversed. The increase in this president's popularity was the largest in the four decades of the Gallup Poll, exceeding those after Pearl Harbor and the signing of the Vietnam peace treaty.
Now this extraordinary period seems about to end. The president says he will welcome the chance to campaign once the hostages come home. Let's hope the country not only welcomes but demands it. The issues we face are too critical to be left in limbo, or to be brushed aside by appeals to flag or complaints about fate. They go far beyond Iranistan.