This is an excerpt from the novel ‘1980’, where the protagonist turns away from politics as he realizes that there are no political solutions that are not mere illusion.
I took a walk from the Kennedy ’80 headquarters in Columbus Ohio. It wasn’t warm, it wasn’t cool and the wind was twisting debris around in strange little funnels. It was June 1980, late evening. The sun stayed up late this time of year, but it was absent, the sky was strangely overcast without being the least bit humid.
I wondered about my appearance, I guess I fit in at the Columbus Kennedy office, with my youth, long hair, jeans and t-shirt. But, I was entering dangerous territory now. The land of the angry Reagan crowd. My god, were they angry. I stood at the periphery, at the back of a long mall full of people crowded into a massive corridor formed by opposing building facades.
Next to me was an old man. Well, he looked old to me.
‘Hi, I’m a notch baby’ he said.
‘Hi’ I offered.
‘You know those J-w, ni–er, devil, mongrel, stooge, serpents in Washington, they stole my Social Security!’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ I replied.’
An angry woman came up to me and shouted:
‘They’re killing the babies! They’re killing the babies!
‘That’s terrible.’ I said
Another man came up to me and said:
“I fed my family off nucular power for 20 years and that Carter wants to take it away from me!’
‘That’s unfortunate.’ I offered.
A man in a hard hat came up to me and stated:
‘I’m laid off from the mill because of that Bolshevik EPA and OSHA.
‘That’s a shame.’ I uttered.
A little old lady came up to me and shouted:
‘That there I-toaly over there in Irania ought to be excommunicated, but that damn Carter don’t do nothing about them hostages!’
‘Yes ma’am.’ I acknowledged.
For some reason they all came up to me. They came to me like I was one young man, that if I just voted for their candidate, I could change their fates and the fate of the entire world. They weren’t like the Kennedy people who had this yearning for Camelot and a return to a Kennedy in the White House would set things right again, they lacked the pathetic arrogance of the painfully out of touch Carter people who believed that their way was the only way. They weren’t wrapped up in obscure economics like the John Anderson people. They weren’t wacky like the Yogurt-eating Barry Commoner people. These people were very real and very angry.
Then at the end of the corridor, one man marched methodically up to the podium.
The crowd rhythmically followed his every moment.
He seized the microphone.
His head weaved back and forth like a metronome, like he was slowly working up the words to say without yet opening his mouth.
‘Well…there they go again, there they go again.’
The crowd roared with approval.
It was Ronald Wilson Reagan, the ex-Governor of California, the former actor, the last hope for these sad, bedraggled, defeated, downtrodden, ignored, unheard, cheated, angry people.
‘Well…President Carter says I can’t do anything about hostages in Iran, I’m only President of the United States, most powerful country in the world, well…if you can’t do anything about it step aside and let someone who can!’
The crowd roared again.
‘Well…President Carter has one thing going for him, perfect 20-20 vision: 20% inflation, 20% interest rates and 20% unemployment, but he can’t do anything about it because he’s only the President of the United States, most powerful country in the world.’
The crowd screamed with greater fury as the wind swirled around them in the night air.
‘Well…President Carter thinks it’s OK to kill unborn babies, to take away your jobs with needless regulations created by wealthy Ivy-League Washington elites, he wants to deny benefits for our brave Veterans, yet he supports amnesty for draft dodgers while you fought and bled in Vietnam, he moves from one crisis to another and solves none of them and last but not least, now wait…our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly, the notch babies, are denied their rightful share of Social Security that they paid into!
The crowd was in a true frenzy, I could hear shouting and screaming. I could see the spitting, angry, cheering face of the notch baby and now I too was caught up in it, my fist was in the air and I was screaming along with the crowd. Then Reagan, always masterful, calmed the crowd with a wave of his hand.
‘Well…let’s make America great again, President Carter believes that we have a malaise, that America’s best days are behind us, but I don’t believe that, I believe America’s best days are yet to come.’
Now it was too late, the crowd was in a full-fledged fury. All of their slights would be vindicated. I slipped away from the back of the crowd, but now I truly had nowhere to go…maybe John Anderson?