An ole boy Texan type, and there are still a few left in this area of super-suburbia inhabited by newcomers from all over the nation, was indulging in that ancient pastime, spinning yarns. With a point, of course, and the point was politics.
He'd come back to dairy farming after World War II, and wasn't paying much attention to national affairs, and certainly not political ones, when the 1948 election rolled around. He hadn't followed the Thomas E. Dewey-Harry S Truman race, but knew, from what everyone said, that Dewey was going to win.
One day he was passing time with another farmer, and casually remarked that we'd have a new president soon. The older farmer leaned back against the fence, took another big chew from his plug of tobacco, spat out majestically, squinted up with a shrewd knowing look, and drawled:
"No, suh. I'll tell you how it's gonna be. I'm gonna vote my ass pocket." He tapped the hip pocket where he kept his wallet. "This country is gonna vote its ass pocket." He tapped his wallet pocket again. "We been doin' good these last coupla years, and Harry Truman is gonna be reelected president of these United States."
Barring calamity, some unforeseen act or war-and-peace development that upends the presidential race, the country again will vote its hip pocket in 1984. Economic conditions at the time people vote will determine which way they go.
At this point, it's Reagan all the way, and for good reason, as the old farmer would surely understand.
It's now exactly a year since the big bull market burst forth last August, unleashing the greatest stock surge in half a century. Stock prices, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, have risen 60 percent since the Federal Reserve eased its monetary policy and the Reagan tax cuts were offset by a big tax increase. The Dow climbed from the mid-700s to nearly 1250. A great deal of money was made--some three-quarters of a trillion dollars in additional profits--and much new wealth was created. The soaring market wiped out much of the pessimism that had gripped Wall Street about America's economic future, and the bulls had a glorious day as the bears retreated into their caves.
Not surprisingly, that transformation has produced tangible political results for the president. His downward slide in the polls has halted. Unlike the last few presidents, his popularity ratings are on a rise as the critical fourth year approaches. If the boom continues--and never mind that millions are still hurting and bankruptcies are still continuing--a majority will stay with him, should he ask for their support again. That certainly is the reading from this bullish place of entrepreneurs and risk-takers in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
What's intriguing here is not the support Reagan retains among these Texans, so many of them transplanted from Michigan and New York and Mississippi and California. As much as any place, this is Reagan's political base.
It is the uncertainty about what impact the recession has had on attitudes here that poses a political riddle.
In a special way, Arlington had come to think of itself as largely immune from cyclical outside economic forces. Its history over 30 years has been one of unparalleled success, leaving residents, as Rep. Tommy J. Vandergriff (D-Tex.) says, with "a feeling we could do almost anything we set out to do."
Vandergriff stands for something more than your usual first-term member of Congress. More than any other person, as mayor for 26 years, planner and courter of business, he helped transform this area from rural past to booming industrial present. So when he says the recession came as a "shock" to this area, leaving concern that the recovery "is very fragile thus far and that we don't have quite the assurance in our minds that all is well," it's worth noting.
"You just won't find the 'damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead' attitude that existed before this recession," he said. "Let me explain it this way. I know some people who have never been without jobs in their adult lives--good jobs, high-paying jobs--until a couple of years ago. It gives you pause to think. When that happens it just naturally leaves so deep an impression that it's going to stay with you, even though you might have gone back to work. It happened once, it can happen again. You don't feel you have that same flexibility . . . . Some of the people that I knew that were without a job, for example, absolutely dumbfounded me."
The same sorts of thoughts are expressed by workers. John Childers, 37, president of the United Auto Workers unit at the General Motors assembly plant, Arlington's largest employer, says about 20 percent of the people there experienced layoffs. Many of those blue-collar workers had voted for Reagan. Although they're all back to work now, Childers says their experience has affected them personally and politically. They are angry.
"We've had people laid off for 18 months," he said. "It's the first time we've had that severe layoffs in years and years, and the first time when people had a hard time finding any work. Right here. And what is so tragic when you get thinking about it is that it is one of the best areas all around. Yet they were having a hard time finding any jobs.
"So now they're all back to work, but they came back with a different attitude, different perspective."
The anniversary of the big stock market advance comes amid new uneasiness on Wall Street about the economy. The market has been slipping of late, the prime rate that banks charge their best customers has risen, and so have interest rates for home mortgages. Once again, fears about high interest rates choking off the recovery are being sounded by some leading analysts.
These are muted at the moment, but nonetheless troubling. With the new wariness comes an undercurrent of concern among some who passionately want to see Reagan run again and be returned to the White House. It is the fear that Reagan could find himself running for reelection precisely at the time inflation begins reviving.
As always with these high-powered financial predictions, no one really knows what will happen. But serious people of major reputations are beginning to raise those doubts. If they prove to be correct, that would set off ripples felt even in Arlington and pose a direct threat to Reagan and the Republicans.
As the old farmer said, don't count on anything politically at this moment and keep watching the hip pocket.