Life most folks, I have a lot of days I look back on fondly. Weddings, children's and grandchildren's births, the Twins' World Series wins, every Vancouver Canucks playoff loss, etc. But near the top of any list would have to be November 4, 1980.
That was the day we got rid of Jimmy Carter.
In 1976, I voted for the first time, and was proud to cast my first vote for a fellow Michigan guy, Gerald Ford. That election didn't go my way, however, and the United States entered a dark, dark period known as the Carter presidency.
It's hard to explain to younger folks how horrible Jan. 20, 1977-Jan. 20 1981 was. The economy became a shipwreck, with rampant inflation, high unemployment and sky-high interest rates. Mortgage rates in the Carter years topped out at 12.9%, and the Prime Rate on April 2, 1980 hit 20%, with unemployment running over 7.0%.
And Carter didn't just make mincemeat of the economy. His foreign policy was driven by the core belief that America had done a lot of wrong in the world that we needed to apologize for. Carter believed we had to show more respect for the Communists who ran the Soviet Union, and learn to co-exist with them. He felt we needed to appease our enemies, and he applauded when Iranians overthrew the pro-United States shah, and turned the country over to the Ayatollah Khomeini. Most damning of all was his fervent belief that the key to peace and stability in the Middle East was befriending Yasir Arafat.
(Carter LOVED Arafat. The fact that Arafat was an absolute monster, a bloodthirsty killer, terrorist and criminal meant nothing to ol' Jimmy, who tried to hand Israel over to Arafat and his forces. Less than four years ago, Carter laid a wreath at the tomb of the man he called "a powerful human symbol and forceful advocate." Well, yes, when you can order the launch of missiles and rockets into civilian neighborhoods, killing innocent women and children, I guess you are a "forceful advocate.")
But I digress. His embrace of Arafat and his intense dislike of Israel were among Carter's most - but not only - dislikable features.
What matters is that we un-elected the peanut farmer the first chance we got. On November 4, 1980, his failed presidency was relegated to the ash heap of history when Ronald Reagan carried 44 states and won 489 electoral votes (numbers that he would exceed four years later.)
That election night was one glorious evening. For most of 1980, I had been working for my college newspaper, the University of Minnesota's Minnesota Daily, but by September I had landed my first real-world job, at the daily newspaper in Red Wing. It was still a liberal newsroom, although not as hopeless as that of the Daily, since nothing is more insufferable than the ignorant liberalism of college kids who think they are wise.
Reagan's victory was so complete that the networks called the election by 8:15 Eastern time, and Carter conceded at 9:50 EST, when the polls were still open in the Western time zone, possibly keeping Democrat voters home and contributing to the Republican takeover of the Senate. (Carter was so inept he couldn't even lose properly.) I don't remember if I did a happy dance around the newsroom, but I might well have.
That's when "Morning in America" began. There was work to do, certainly: An economy to repair, American hostages to be freed, an aggressive Soviet Union to confront, but there seemed little doubt that the United States had turned a corner and headed back down the right road.
So what brings back those joyous memories of Nov. 4, 1980? An incredible deja vu-like feeling that we're headed that way again, with so many of the same pieces in place: A bumbling, incompetent president who seems somewhat ashamed of his country. The certainty that other nations have lost respect for us. Feeble attacks on the Republican nominee as "too right-wing." An economy in shambles and a government that has become too big and intrusive.
In June of 1980, the Reagan victory did NOT seem inevitable. Polls showed Carter ahead, and that lead would hold into October. In fact, polls the weekend before the election still showed it a neck-and-neck race, when the American people were deciding differently.
I realize it's a long time from June to November, and political prognostication is a dangerous game to play, but on Saturday someone asked me if Romney had a chance to win. And I just blurted out, "I think he's going to carry 40 states. It won't even be close." And I said it, in large part, because the parallels to 1980 seem so clearly apparent. Here's hoping I'm right.