Column

Carter has his boor who spits, Clark has his overripe cheese. You have to wonder

Allan Fotheringham July 30 1979
Column

Carter has his boor who spits, Clark has his overripe cheese. You have to wonder

Allan Fotheringham July 30 1979

Carter has his boor who spits, Clark has his overripe cheese. You have to wonder

Column

Allan Fotheringham

Do you sometimes have the impression that Mork and Mindy have taken over the running of the world? When Hamilton Jordan, a boor of a Georgia Cracker who doesn’t like underwear, lived in his car at college and spits down the front of ladies’ dresses, is the new gatekeeper to the office of the most powerful man on earth, it gives one to think. H. R. Haldeman was a jerk, but at least he wore jockey shorts. It’s the same feeling you get when you realize that Bill Neville, whose record is unblemished by success, is the chief brain behind the new prime minister of Canada. And that the chief aides of Joe Clark who couldn’t read an airline schedule are now at the controls of the destiny of the nation. I have tremendous faith in the inner resources of this country, but sometimes you have to wonder.

When Jimmy Carter, to prove he is decisive, selects a new chief of staff o whose grasp of responsi£ bility is such that Wash£ ington police impounded g his car for the second time Œ for nonpayment of parking tickets, then we recall Mr. Khrushchev’s matter-offact statement that “We will bury you.” You will bury yourselves, he meant. Future archeologists, digging into the midden that was this century and uncovering The Gong Show, Hamilton Jordan’s overdue parking notices, Hustler magazine and the editorial furor over the fact Jimmy Carter decided to part his hair on the other side, will quietly fill in the dump and move on to more interesting civilizations.

When you come to think of it, Joe Clark—after becoming Tory leader— went into drydock for the image refit that the flackery firms recommended and was told, to his great surprise, by his hairdresser that he had been parting his hair all wrong all his life. Jimmy and Joe have this much in common: they took their hairdressers’ advice over their mothers’. There are plenty of other similarities, actually: the boy from Plains and the boy from High River, both well off the beaten esta-

blishment track, both making a virtue of not being in the circles they couldn’t crack. That’s okay, an obvious electoral advantage, but that same background has produced a basic uncertainty and ill-confidence—that leads them to stick with aides whose chief asset is that they’ve been hanging around for a long time, like overripe cheese.

Carter has Jordan, who still thinks it’s charming to belch in public. Clark, well, it’s been known for some time that Clark needs brighter people around him. It was known after he became

leader, before the campaign began, before the campaign ended and it’s still known. Heaven help him if Jim Gillies, who had pledged to his family to get out of politics and did not run again, had not agreed to hang around and add some heft to the boy scouts who surround Clark. Heaven help him if the stately and decisive Jean Pigott had not been defeated in Ottawa-Carleton and so was able to be taken onto Clark’s staff. (She would have made an excellent and automatic cabinet minister; God in Her wisdom may have decided that the tadpoles around Clark needed her more.)

Jimmy Carter, in his Garner Ted Armstrong unctuousness, pleading like a supplicant for assistance from each and every American televiewer, comes across as a plaintive man who wanted to be leader but now asks everyone he runs into the definition of leadership. One just imagines a Churchill, at a moment of crisis, making a furtive dash to a coal miner’s cottage in Wales to seek

his advice as to how to win the war. F.D.R. and Truman didn’t have to ask how to lead. Neither did Pierre Trudeau (he knew, oh, how he knew). Carter, in his attempt to demonstrate how democratic he is, merely proves he doesn’t like to face responsibility alone.

There is, finally, one more bothersome similarity between these underrated men who came from the soft underbelly of the political system. Both have spent so much time on the mechanics of the electoral process that they haven’t spent much time figuring out where they stand in life. Carter, looked upon disparagingly by experienced Democratic candidates, simply slogged his way through the primaries until he was so far ahead no one could catch him. Clark, so little thought of by his own caucus that only three Tory MPs supported his bid for the leadership, used his proven organizational abilities to walk up the middle when the heavy money of the party split between Claude Wagner and Brian Mulroney.

They won, but what do they think? Do even their chief aides know? Carter, who started out a populist with his finger supposedly on the common pulse, has proven so inept at trying to figure out what the unwashed think that he has resorted to these recent ridiculous forays into the land of Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch in a sampling that would shame even a soap researcher. Clark, who seems to have no discernible rationale to his decisions, now admits he didn’t think through his top-of-thehead brainwave on Jerusalem—an assessment apparent to anyone who has bothered even to skim world affairs in the past few years. During the campaign, Clark blithely tossed off the opinion that Quebec did not have the right of self-determination, a genuinely silly observation that enraged even federalists within Quebec. The uproar seemed to puzzle Clark (as did the first reaction to his Jerusalem goof).

We know how these guys got there. But do they know why?