Political mavericks and manners
There are two uncertainties about the US political situation now that the primary elections are over and the audience awaits the major party conventions of midsummer.
There is, first, the uncertainty about the independent candidacy of John Anderson of Illinois. There is, second, some doubt as to whether Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts will do his best to keep President Carter from a second term or , at the last moment, behave like a regular Boston Democrat and back his party and its candidate.
About John Anderson, there is really very little to go on in trying to weigh the prospects and probabilities. He has come a long way. Six months ago he was an obscure member of Congress with a curious idea that he could somehow become a real candidate for the presidency.Almost no other politician or political pundit took him seriously. Today he is the only survivor of the "also ran" Republicans. He has made the cover of Newsweek magazine. He has polled nearly a third of the vote in some primaries. He might catch the popular mood as Theodore Roosevelt did in 1912.
But then, on the other hand, Mr. Anderson is a political maverick. He has some curious behavior in his political past which can rise up to hurt him now, such as having tried repeatedly to write Christianity into the Constitution in spite of the traditional and long-accepted US doctrine of separation of church and state.
He is a lucid, intelligent, and independent thinker. He has a gift for being able to speak sense instead of campaign rhetoric. When you listen to him you know what he is trying to say. By contrast President Carter speaks in a southern political idiom which seems to be understandable to people south of the Mason-Dixon line but continues to baffle Northerners. Ronald Reagan speaks in simplistic platitudes which continue to reassure the Republican right without as yet allenating decisively the great American political center.
But will the American voters of 1980 really "go" for a man who makes sense and can say in plain English what he means? It is a central question which no one can yet answer with certainty. John Anderson might be the hottest thing in US politics by the end of August. And he could also be the forgotten man of the campaign. There is a curious, almost chemical reaction which can set in between a prominent politician and the citizenry of the US. If it goes one way he becomes a national leader. If it goes the other way he ends up forgotten. As yet the mass of the American people does not show the result of John Anderson's personality working on its hopes and fears.
Then there is the Kennedy uncertainty. "Teddy" did well in the last round of primaries, very well indeed. He took both California and New Jersey away from the Carter machine. He proved that he is the favorite with the working classes of the big cities -- particularly in the Northeast and along the Pacific Coast. He also proved that he had learned to be an effective campaigner. His performance was miserable in the beginning. It was smooth and effective at the end.
Add that there is a strong personality factor operating between the Kennedys and the Carters. The Kennedys are social snobs. Remember how they patronized Lyndon Johnson? They found him useful for getting the 1960 nomination but, once they got into the White House, treated him as though he were an unwashed vulgarian. There was no room at the high table in Camelot for the Lyndon Johnsons. There is a noticeable touch of the same thing among the Kennedy's today toward the Carters. It pains the Kennedys visibly that the Carters actually have the White House and behave in public as though they were social equals of Kennedys.
But rule one for a Boston Irish politician is to close ranks and back the party come what may, after the family quarrel has ended and the candidates have been selected. Is it conceivable that the Kennedys of 1980 resent the Carters to the point of being willing to wreck the party? Or will they close ranks at the last moment and go down the line for a second term for Mr. Carter, and hence earn for themselves a stronger claim on a nomination four years later?
If you, dear reader, know the answer to two questions, you can probably foresee the outcome on election day. Will John Anderson capture the imagination of the American people? Will Edward Kennedy put party loyalty above personal distaste for CArters? I wish I knew the answers.