One way in which this election is starting to resemble the 1980 election is that Democrats are starting to lose their grip and lash out in ways that even the mainstream media find over the top—like TV ads calling Romney a murderer, or Slow Joe Biden letting fly with the maxed-out race card. Today one of MSNBC’s commentators, Toure (I guess he doesn’t have a first name?) charged Romney with the “niggerization” of Obama. Not even Ron Burgundy could say “stay classy liberals” with a straight face at this point.
In the 1980 election, Jimmy Carter’s wild charges that Ronald Reagan was a racist backfired badly on him, and propelled the media to start writing about Carter’s “meanness” factor (which had been there all along to anyone who followed Carter’s Georgia career closely).
A few samples from a certain great book (that everyone needs to have on their bookshelf):
The liberal columnist Richard Reeves wrote: “The Carter campaign is as mean-spirited as any you’ll see in American politics. Where this meanness comes from is obvious to anyone who has watched Carter’s rise to the Presidency and the attempts to keep him there—it comes from the top, from Jimmy Carter.” . . .
Speaking at Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on September 15, Carter said: “You’ve seen in this campaign the stirrings of hate and the rebirth of code words like ‘states’ rights’ in a speech in Mississippi, in a campaign reference to the Ku Klux Klan relating to the south. . .
Carter and the Democrats had said they would try to rerun the Goldwater playbook, and perhaps believed that the media would amplify their caricature of Reagan in much the same way they did for Johnson in 1964. They were wrong. The media was harsh on Carter for his indulgence of race-baiting. The New Republic: “President Carter has made a grave moral error in trying to portray Ronald Reagan as a racist.” Carter’s statements “are frightful distortions, bordering on outright lies.” Boston Globe columnist Curtis Wilkie wrote: “Just as surely as the werewolf grows long fangs and facial hair on a full moon, the darker side of President Carter emerges in election years.” . . . The editorial page of the Washington Post was savage:
‘Mr. Carter has abandoned all dignity in his round-the-clock attack on Mr. Reagan’s character and standing, jumping (in a most sanctimonious tone of voice) for “offenses” similar to many Mr. Carter himself has committed, and, most recently, concluding from all this that Mr. Reagan is a “racist” and a purveyor of “hatred.” This description doesn’t fit Mr. Reagan. What it fits, or more precisely, fits into, is Jimmy Carter’s miserable record of personally savaging political opponents (Hubert Humphrey, Edward Kennedy) whenever the going got rough. . . Jimmy Carter, as before, seems to have few limits beyond which he will not go in the abuse of opponents and reconstruction of history.’
Appearing in a back yard setting on October 6, Carter said: “You’ll determine whether or not this America will be unified or, if I lose the election, whether Americans might be separated, black from white, Jew from Christian, North from South, rural from urban.” (Emphasis added.) Reporters in the press pool couldn’t believe it, and the comment was the lead sound bite on all the network news broadcasts that night. . . The network news spin was devastating to Carter. NBC’s Chris Wallace said Carter’s comment “showed Mr. Carter as mean and unpresidential, Reagan as caring and mature.” ABC’s Sam Donaldson said, “Carter campaign officials are deeply worried tonight that the President’s re-election is slipping away.”
Well, a few folks in the media are starting to note that the Democrats are the ones going over the line this time, too, such as Dan Balz in the Washington Post:
Vice President Biden triggered the latest round Tuesday with lines that, had a Republican uttered them, probably would have set off an even bigger firestorm. He told an audience in Virginia that Romney would “unchain” big banks if elected and then added, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” (Emphasis added.)
Although Balz’s article is pitched as a “pox on both houses” kind of piece, a close reading will show that he thinks the Democrats are guilty of much the worse behavior. Good of him, too, to note the media double-standard in these matters. This was, after all, the same paper that made a federal case out of “macaca.”
Look for liberals to get even more desperate if polls show Romney pulling ahead. Those who don’t remember the past are fated to repeat it. I’m guessing even liberals who do remember 1980 won’t be able to help themselves.