Jimmy Carter, Cher, and Me

I remember being confused by politics as a child. I did not understand how politicians knew that some things were issues and other things were not. To me, there had to be some tangible quality, something inherent to a topic that made it an issue - the way gravity is an inherent quality of matter - otherwise it was all just arbitrary. My parents explanation that issues became issues because people thought they were important was deeply dissatisfying to me.

I remember the evening I decided to try paying attention to politics in the hope that I might come to understand it better. While I don’t recall the precise date, it was a Friday night, a week or two before November 1, 1976.

I don’t recall how long we did so, but my family would regularly gather at the television to watch The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Like all variety shows, it featured skits, songs, and special guests. It would open with a musical duet by the couple followed by a comedic dialogue and on the night in question they spoke about the looming November 1 presidential election.

They bantered about the importance of casting a your ballot and Sonny said something to the effect that he and Cher knew all of their audience was united in their support, as the two of them were, in supporting...

[spoken simultaneously]

Sonny: Gerald Ford.
Cher: Jimmy Carter.

They bantered more, and the dialogue ended with Sonny saying, “there is definitely a Ford in our future.” And Cher got the last words in, “and it will be driven by Jimmy Carter.”

On that night at age 11, I decided to start caring about - and hopefully understanding - politics by hoping, like Cher, that Jimmy Carter would win.

On November 2, 1976, Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States, and I was happy about that. My guy had won.

I had a child’s comic-book morality which divided the world into the good-guys and bad-guys, and my side is always the good side. Jimmy Carter was unquestionably a good-guy. He was a peanut farmer - that made him down-to-Earth. He was from the South - which I have a long-time, idiosyncratic affection for. (He was the first President from the South since 1848’s Zachary Taylor according to the research I did for this post.) He had a strange brother, Billy, whom he seemed to tolerate. He was a good guy.

According to my comic-book morality, since Jimmy Carter and I were good guys, that meant also that anyone on our side, or anyone whose side we were on, were also good guys.

This meant that through Jimmy Carter, I was on the side of the mujahideen when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 and ultimately, again, my side won! There was trouble that followed as the factions of the mujahideen duked it out over who would rule (a naive understanding of the Afghan Civil War, I know) but since they were all derived from the good side, the outcome had to be good, so Taliban rule in Afghanistan was fine with me.

When I first started receiving e-mail about the situation in Afghanistan years later, I dismissed them as hoaxes. One described a woman who had been stopped while driving her car. Her window was rolled down and she had her bare arm resting on the door. She had been dragged from her car and beaten.

Ridiculous, I had thought. Our side won in Afghanistan.

But eventually I started paying closer attention and learned that my side in Afghanistan had not really been the good-guys of comic books.

This image is heartbreaking to me. I feel like I supported this change.

So when next my side invaded Afghanistan in 2001, I supported the mission, but not with the rah-rah-revenge-for-9/11-enthusiam that everyone else seemed to feel.

I thought we had to fix what we had broken. And whenever I hear people argue that the West created ISIS, I start tracing its pedigree backwards in time to Al-Qaeda, to the Taliban, to the mujahideen, to Jimmy Carter, Cher, and me.