Have you noticed the 1970s are back? Polyester is hip again. The music, if you want to call it that, is regaining popularity. Hip-huggers … smiley faces … bubble letters. … I think I’m going to be sick.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was reliving the most boring half-decade of my life. I say half-decade, because the ’70s really started during the Ford administration and continued through the Carter years. The Nixon years, right up to his resignation, were, politically and culturally, more an extension of the ’60s, numerics notwithstanding.
But there’s nothing boring about the 1990s. Nosiree. It’s a decade that reminds me of that ancient Chinese curse — “May you live in interesting times.” Corruption at the highest levels of government … one shocking development after another … seemingly unprecedented fraud, deceit, self-righteous finger-pointing and hypocrisy. And maybe that’s part of the explanation for why people are nostalgic for the ’70s. Part of the answer may be political.
I never thought I would ever look back fondly on the Jimmy Carter years, but that’s just one of the ways Bill Clinton has surprised me. Say what you will about Carter — he was incompetent, he was weak, he was wrongheaded. But, let’s face it: He was honest. He meant it when he said, “I’ll never lie to you.” And I can’t think of an example of when he did.
His administration was virtually free of corruption, at least by comparison to today’s standards of government debauchery. Cabinet members didn’t die in plane crashes with bullet holes in their heads. White House lawyers didn’t drive to obscure parks without their keys, walk through the park without getting any soil on their shoes and shoot themselves without leaving any fingerprints on the guns. Top campaign donors didn’t lie about their war records and get rewarded with plots in Arlington National Cemetery. And at least Jimmy Carter didn’t sell the Panama Canal — he just gave it away.
Say what you will about Jimmy Carter and his misguided policies, you could trust him. He was sincere. He was loyal. He was faithful. He was a decent human being. That’s why he’s looking a lot better today. For that he should thank Bill Clinton. Maybe this is part of the explanation for the nostalgia craze. I certainly can’t think of any others.
What about the ’80s? The Reagan years have been so demonized by the press and Hollywood that even people who remember the time clearly are confused. Imagine how difficult it must be for those too young to have any sense of kinship with the “Decade of Greed.”
It’s with all this in mind that I reflect upon ABC’s recent blistering expose of John F. Kennedy — “Deconstructing Camelot.” Why, people are wondering, would Peter Jennings and ABC take apart this liberal Democratic icon?
I think the answer is quite simple. By portraying JFK, probably accurately, as a womanizer who felt comfortable in the company of mobsters, who tried to bump off his enemies or anyone who could be a threat to him, who took drugs, who deceived the American people, who compromised the reputation of his office and who pretended all the while to be a loyal husband, father and guardian of the law, the network was playing right into Clinton’s game plan.
What’s the president’s last line of defense whenever he’s caught in scandal? “Everyone does it.” Now someone else is proving that for him. Almost everything Clinton has been accused of doing, Kennedy did, too — in spades. With one possible exception — Kennedy never sold out his country to a hostile foreign power.
Yeah, all this is more than enough to make you crave those simpler days of disco, gas lines and hostages. With Kennedy discredited, Johnson still scandalized by the Vietnam War, Nixon in disgrace, Ford a joke, Reagan vilified, Bush self-destructed and Clinton still in the White House, why wouldn’t it be natural for some in America to hearken back to the good old days of Jimmy Carter?
But, given the treatment JFK just got from ABC, if I was Jimmy Carter, I’d be watching my back.