Midway through Jimmy Carter's 1966 race for the Georgia governorship, the polls were consulted by a Mr. Gerald Rafshoon, and it was learned that the most refulgent grin ever to come out of Southwest Georgia had, at that point, hoodwinked a mere 4.2 percent of the electorate. Mr. Carter was but fifth in the field of seven! To his rear could be seen only a Mr. Garland Byrd and a R. Hoke O'Kelley, a perennial candidate of somewhat derisible reputation! Moreover, Jimmy had spent three shafts from his magical quiver and to no effect.
Already he had laid bare his heart in sanctimonious melodrama that 10 years later would make him leader of the free world and an inspiration to YMCA directors everywhere. "If I ever let you down in my action," he declared to 15-teen-age supporters on July 14, 1966, "I want you to let me know about it and I'll correct it. I promise never to betray your confidence in me." The address is now 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Already he had attempted to chloroform liberals, conservatives and moderates, presenting himself as ideologically ubiquitous. Was he to the right or to the left? Was he a segregationist or an integrationist? "i believe I'm a more complicated person than that," he sniffed.
Already there had been a mysterious outbreak of those amazing campaign phenomena, known to us nowadays as "dirty tricks." An increate committee of unknown patriots materialized to denounce the liberal, Mr. Ellis Arnall, and to thump melodiously for candidate Carter. The committee was named "Concerned Friends of Sen. Richard B. Russell and Sen. Herman Talmadge," those being the state's most illustrious pols from the old order.
Yet despite all these brilliant devices, Jimmy Carter had thus far won the hearts of a mere 4.2 percent of Georgia's voters, a percentage strikingly similar to the state's percentage of problem drinkers. What else could a man of Carter's high moral character do? What strategies were left him? Bribery, intimidation and ballot-fraud would get him into hot water with churchgoers. Homicide was plainly malum prohibitum even at election time. All that remained was vilification, innuendo, dissimulation and hyperbolisms in every direction -- in other words, a traditional good government campaign.
Arnall, the aforementioned liberal, was then in the lead. Candidate Carter immediately commenced to describe him as one who had practiced "gross favoritism." Jimmy flayed him for being divisive and extreme, a sort of Deep South Bolshevik. Then Jimmy laid into him for being hopelessly obsolete, a sort of Deep South Coolidge. Soon Jimmy released the hottest stuff of all: Arnall was "corrupt and immoral."
By late August, our future president was shouting that "the people are embarrassed and nauseated over the frivolity and clownishness" of his opponents. In one day, and before the sun set, he berated five of his opponents.
Our story, of course, has a happy ending. Jimmy lost. Lester Maddox, a repulsive racist, won, and I cannot stifle the thought that had Jimmy not bashed and battered the liberal frontrunner, Ellis Arnall, Georgia and America might have been spared the poisoned antics of Maddox. At any rate, Jimmy now had four years to perfect his style. From the moment he began his personal attacks in 1966, he moved up steadily through the pack. The lesson was not lost on him; his 1970 campaign would be even dirtier. Betty Glad has chronicled Carter's entire public life in "Jimmy Carter: In Search of the Great White House." Unfortunately for our president, Norton published it just last week.
What lurid and ghastly themes of personal abuse will our great president delight us with in Campaign '80? Certainly he will charge that this guy Reagan is less than a genius, hence not smart enough to maintain double digit inflation plus 7.8 percent unemployment. Then, too, he will charge that Reagan is strictly 19th century, hence not sophisticated enough to deal with the collapse of Iran, the invasion of Afghanistan, tumult in Central America, Soviet proxies in Africa and the hostages -- that last unpleasantness being Carter's greatest triumph. Our president will remind us that Reagan is old and no jogger; acted in mediocre movies and carried a gun; has the support of the oil tycoons plus the Ku Klux Klan; and hails from Hollywood, Calif., where carnality is the norm and divorce is rampant. There will be inuendoes too dreadful and lascivious for a sinner like myself even to imagine. If Reagan sneezes or orders a roll of Tums in public, our virtuous president will immediately make available Bethesda Naval Hospital.
I predict that Campaign '80 will be far dirtier than Campaign '66. Let it, too, have a happy ending.