Jim Cahillane: Reflections on the presidency

Published: 10/13/2016 2:36:22 AM

“There’s no people like show people,” wrote Irving Berlin. Its words were more hard-nosed than his perky tune. “They smile when they are low … let’s go on with the show.”

Welcome to the 2016 presidential election year. I am sick of hearing that D.J. Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most disliked nominees in history. These “person on the street” views are no more valid that when Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” took a camera out onto the streets to question people about candidates and current events. Those on-street interviews revealed that, when it comes to government, no one knew much of anything and that ill-informed opinions of the common man or woman are scary.

The outbreak of ignorance among the average citizen is far from new, but starting with the Tea Party revolt of a few years ago, the collapse of the two-party system in Congress and today’s blond-joke, no-nothings is enough to make this writer question long-held beliefs. Like, for example, Winston Churchill’s contention that “democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others.”

It was January 1993 when my first opinion column appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Its topic was political in that the nation was in process of inaugurating a new president come the 20th of that month. 

Looking back 23 years gives me pause because I was so green in my opinions and, though 60 years old, limited as a writer. At any rate, I took a whirl and wondered at what the future might be like under a President Clinton. Universal health care was in the air as a goal. I wrote, “Our nation’s hopes and prayers go out to our new young president and his savvy wife.” 

My theme, such as it existed, was that in one way or another most presidents find a way to disappoint you in office, or due to secrets disclosed in later biographies. I vowed that while wishing the new White House pair well, no way was I about to fall in love with them. I, older and wiser, would expect great national progress, but not invest foolish Hollywood musical-like hopes and dreams in any politician.

That was then, this is now.

Well, hello Hillary! Long time no see. What’s up? “Back to the Future” was no musical but it made you think about going back and fixing those things that you goofed up back when. My best friend hates the term “back in the day,” but, hey, it’s down with these times and so must we be.

Let me count decades of memories. Let’s see, Bill Clinton, hmm. The Silicon Valley revolution came about and the economy boomed. He did not declare any new wars, but stopped one by intervening in Bosnia. He was impeached for a dalliance in office, but redeemed by the people and a vote in Congress.

Bill’s vice president, Al Gore, got all high and holy in the 2000 election, kissed his wife extra hard at the Democratic Convention, lost to George W. Bush for many reasons, including losing Florida. Independent candidate Ralph Nader was no help at all. It just gave people one more reason to dislike another insufferable. Gore got it right on the importance of climate change, actually did help start the internet era, made millions selling a TV network and divorced his wife.

Who can we trust?

George W. (God help us) Bush moved into the White House on the strength of not being Al Gore. He has one of those “What me worry?” faces. The anxious among us turned out to be right in that when faced with a 9/11 disaster he made it worse. Thanks to going to war on a minute’s notice in Afghanistan, and another on bad intelligence in Iraq, doubling the deficit and sending the economy into a Great Recession tailspin — he lived down to we cynics’ Texas-size expectations — for two terms!

Now comes Obama on the scene. A classic primary election against Hillary brought America to life in hopes that a bright young man with his own spirited spouse could bring the economy back from the brink and find a way to get us out of endless wars. He did, expanded health care, and cannot even get a “well done” on his way out the door.

Although Hillary’s near 70, she knows the way of the world. And so far as that General Custer-haired buffoon goes all I can say is: I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

Writer Jim Cahillane, a regular contributor, lives in Williamsburg.

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