The reality that many voters can’t seem to abide either candidate this year reminds me of this cute Buchwald column from the 1976 race. Old-timers like me will recall that Agricultural Secretary Earl Butz offended most of America with a tasteless and racially-tinged joke, and Buchwald makes scathing reference to it here.
DO THEY REALLY WANT IT?
Art Buchwald, 1976
My friend Rosenfeld has a wild theory that, based on what is going on in the Presidential campaign, both men are trying to throw the election.
“I don’t believe either man wants the job and that’s why they’re trying to out-goof each other.”
“That’s hard to believe,” I said.
“Think about it,” he said.
I thought about it and came to the conclusion Rosenfeld could be right.
It probably all started when Jerry Ford first came to the White House as President and said to Mrs. Ford, “I said I wouldn’t run for President in 1976, but how can I make people believe it?”
“Why don’t you pardon President Nixon?” Mrs. Ford suggested.
“That’s a good idea. If I pardon Nixon, the press will have to accept the fact that I have no intention of running for a full term.”
Ford pardoned Nixon and everyone said he blew his chance to be elected in ’76. But several months later the rumors started up again that Ford has aspirations to stay in the White House. “What can we do to stop the rumors?” he asked Mrs. Ford.
“Why don’t I go on the ‘Sixty Minutes’ show and say I wouldn’t be surprised if Susan had an affair before she was married? The American people would never stand for it.”
“That could do it,” the President said.
Then the Democrats started holding their primaries and Jimmy Carter, who was just running because he had nothing else to do, found himself out front. No one in the Carter family could believe it. Jimmy went to his mother, Miss Lillian, and said, “Ma, if I keep up the way I’m going I may win the nomination. What am I going to do?”
“You have no choice, son, but to talk about ‘ethnic purity.’ That should kill any chances you have of getting the nomination.”
Jimmy brought up “ethnic purity” in his next speech and there was such a hullabaloo about it that Carter was certain he was out of it.
But immediately the African-American community forgave him and he was still in the race.
In the meantime Jerry Ford could not avoid his party’s pleas that he run for the office again. He was dispirited and Betty cheered him up. “Don’t forget you have to campaign against Ronald Reagan and if you put a really bad organization together he can beat you.”
Ford put his campaign organization together, started to campaign and almost lost the nomination. But Reagan goofed and Ford squeaked through. His only hope was that the Republican Party was in such a shambles after Kansas City that he wouldn’t have a chance. The polls confirmed this.
Carter was terrified and went to Miss Lillian and said, “What do I do, Ma? You know I don’t want to go to Washington.”
His wise mother said, “You have to do three things. Announce that you’re going to raise taxes on people’s median incomes, attack President Johnson, and give an interview to Playboy Magazine telling them what’s really in your heart. It will kill you in the polls.”
As usual Miss Lillian was right and Jimmy Carter started going downhill fast.
Mr. Ford was horror-stricken and said to Mrs. Ford, “Carter is out-goofing me. What do I do now?”
Mrs. Ford said, “Why don’t you disclose that you played golf on weekends with lobbyists? That could hurt you.”
The President leaked stories about his weekends with lobbyists, but it had no impact at all, and the polls showed him neck and neck with Carter.
He was desperate and confided to Mrs. Ford, “I can’t understand it. No matter what I do I still have a chance of winning.”
Just then the phone rang. Mrs. Ford answered it and said to the person on the phone, “Thank you, I’ll tell the President.” She turned to Mr. Ford and said, “It’s good news. Earl Butz just told a terrible ethnic joke on an airplane and Ron Nessen said it could ruin us.”
For the first time in weeks the President smiled. “Good old Earl. He’s always there when you need him.”