If Ronald Reagan understood Georgia politics better, he would know in advance what the October Surprise is that Jimmy Carter is going to spring at the last minute so as to win the November election. It's not going to be war in the Middle East, the release of the American hostages, or any of those other things Reagan has guessed at. See, you almost have to have been brought up in Georgia to understand how we think down there, and some outsiders, no matter how bright and inquisitive, never catch on.
When I was a little boy growing up in Atlanta, we had this Yankee political scientist who had moved into the neighborhood and who used to hang out at Turner's Fruit Stand on Ponce de Leon Avenue. They sold watermelons there by the slice, and he ate a lot of it. But the real reason he frequented the place, and we all knew it, was to try and understand what he referred to as our "mentality."
The specific object of his study was a certain Democratic politician we had, a colorful maze whom we kept electing to office by big landslides. This politician, who would make some of our more recent malefactors seem like pikers, had first attracted public attention by becoming suspiciously ardent in his attentions toward a creature that is the traditional symbol of the party to which he belonged, and as a result was haled into court. This gave him the kind of name recognition that he parlayed into the office of state treasurer, where he lined his pockets out of public funds. And shortly thereafter he hit the campaign trail for the governorship, which he won by telling the voters, "Sure I stole the money. But I stole it for you."
All this really bothered that political scientist, and we youngsters would sit around the edges of where the men were talking, whittling the bark of sugar cane with jackknives, slowly chewing the delicious pulp and watching him agonize. He was the first intellectual any of us had ever known, and we were in awe of him. "I really don't get it," he'd say over his tenth slice of watermelon. "He keeps on doing those things, but in spite of it, keeps on getting elected."
One night, shortly after he left, Old Man Turner said out into the silence, "In spite of it, hell." And we all laughed. None of us had read Jean Anouilh, who wrote that "it takes a certain courage and a certain greatness even to be truly base." But we would have agreed with him on that; and agreed, too, with Maxim Gorky, who wrote that "a good man can be stupid and still be good. But a bad man must have brains -- absolutely." Politics, you see, was boring. Hell, life was boring. And we thought that anybody that far out ought to get some sort of recognition.
A few outsiders, of course, who were fond of pointing out Georgia's convict origins, said that this fascination with heroic sinning was evidence of "criminal mentality" on our part, and some psychologists even went so far as to claim we were "self-destructive." Privately, however, we looked on ourselves merely as fun-loving. In fact, we felt honored by that political scientist's having taken such an interest in us. It made us feel special, and we would have been somewhat miffed if we'd known that the following years would bring about the Georgification of the United States, wherein almost everybody would become just like us.
Alas, that's what happened, and these days, politicians from all over the country get reelected after having admitted to accepting bribes, misappropriating public funds, indulging in homosexuality and accepting illegal campaign contributions. In fact, the admission of such activities has come to be regarded by some as "shameless bids for reelection," and all that seems necessary for full political success is to assure the public that one was drunk, to boot. Almost everybody seems to think like Old Man Turner these days. Except for Ronald Reagan, who still professes to be mystified by what Jimmy Carter's October Surprise is going to be.
Well, it no longer takes any Georgian to enlighten him on that. But for what it's worth, it's this: the president is going to come on national television and swear that he was drunker than a bat during his four years in office; reeling and slamming into walls when dealing with the economy; trying to throw a leg up over the gutter when his foreign policy was laid out; and so swacked when he appointed Bert Lance, Peter Bourne, el al., that he had to clutch onto the grass to keep from sliding off the lawn. There won't be a word of truth to it, mind you -- just your standard Georgia campaign rhetoric -- but it will not only serve to explain the soaring inflation, massive unemployment, deteriorating, defense establishment and precarious international situation, but ought, in a positive way, to ensure President Carter's reelection as well.
Naturally, certain amenities have to be observed, and commentators the morning after the election will be obliged to say that the results just go to show that certain men are able to get reelected "in spite it." But we old Georgians will just smile knowingly at one another and murmur, "In spite of it, eh?"