Posts Tagged ‘1980s’
Politics is universal, and a sham. So much of what we see is theatre put on for our benefit, as demonstrated by a British series from the 1980s called Yes, Minister.
Yes, Minister — and, eventually, Yes, Prime Minister — is a show about the internal workings of the British Department of Administrative Affairs, analogous to our Department of the Interior. As a satiric sitcom, this television show has to be a thousand times more realistic than the bunk you see on The West Wing.
Although Great Britain’s constitutional monarchy is an odd beast, and although its parliament is just different enough to warrant brushing up on comparative government before watching an episode or two, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu as I breeze through the 38 or so episodes. I’ve seen all this intrigue somewhere before.
One of the great tropes of the series is when one of the characters gets into a monologue about how government really works, patiently explaining that the job of the civil service is to prevent the elected officials from messing up the government. The best official, the civil service frequently says, is a puppet. Later that episode, when main character and career puppet Jim Hacker is coerced into making an ultimately successful mid-term campaign for Prime Minister, his advisers tell him exactly what he has to do.
If asked if he wants to be Prime Minister, the generally acceptable answer for a politician is that while he does not seek the office, he has pledged himself to the service of his country, and that should his colleagues persuade him that that is the best way he can serve, he might reluctantly have to accept the responsibility, whatever his personal wishes might be.
Hacker does this.
Hacker: The next Prime Minister would have to be someone you could trust. An old friend.
Duncan: Do you mean you?
Hacker: I have absolutely no ambition in that direction.
Duncan: You do mean you.
Eric: So Duncan would get No. 10. My God.
Hacker: Not if I can help it. [takes a drink] Cheers.
Eric: You don’t mean you?
Hacker: Me? My children are at the age where my wife and I would like to spend much more time with each other.
Eric: You do mean you.
I don’t know about you, but I saw more than a little bit of Fred Thompson, whose campaign peaked just before he announced his candidacy. Before that, he had no ambition. He wanted to spend time with his family.
He wanted to be the head of government, no doubt about it.
The eeriest scene involved what turns out to be Jim Hacker’s campaign speech. It’s full of melodrama, patriotism, triviality and overdone pomp. In other words, though him crying out against repressed British sausage will sound foreign to our ears, his rhetoric will remain very, very familiar.
Why is it that British shows always seem so American?
Richard Nixon resigned. At the close of our last mix, the new President Ford pardoned him. He felt bipartisan heat because of it, fair or not. Americans skipped ahead to the next election, and so shall we.
Eager to regain the White House after the turbulent Nixon-Ford years, the Democrats nominate a peanut farmer from Georgia. His name was Jimmy Carter, and he would be the only Democrat elected to the White House between 1968 and 1992.
1. The Boys Are Back In Town — 1976 — Thin Lizzy
2. DNC Keynote Address — 1976 — Barbara Jordan
3. Walk This Way — 1976 — Aerosmith
4. Democratic Convention Acceptance Speech — 1976 — Jimmy Carter
5. Don’t Fear the Reaper — 1976 — Blue Oyster Cult
6. Peace — 1977 — Anwar al-Sadat
7. Stayin Alive — 1977 — Bee Gees
8. Heart Of Glass — 1978 — Blondie
9. Women’s Work — 1978 — Margaret Mead
10. I Wanna Be Sedated — 1978 — The Ramones
11. Crisis of Confidence — 1979 — Jimmy Carter
12. Complete Control — 1979 — The Clash
13. Rock Lobster — 1979 — B-52′s
14. 1980 DNC Address — 1980 — Edward Kennedy
15. That’s Entertainment — 1980 — The Jam
16. Inaurgural Address 1981 — 1981 — Ronald Reagan
17. Super Freak — 1981 — Rick James
18. The Message — 1982 — Grandmaster Flash
19. On the Falkland Islands — 1982 — Margret Thatcher
20. Beat It — 1982 — Michael Jackson
21. The Evil Empire — 1983 — Ronald Reagan
22. Sweet Dreams — 1983 — Eurythmics
23. Religious Belief and Public Morality — 1984 — Mario Cuomo
24. When Doves Cry — 1984 — Prince
25. 1984 Vice Presidential Nomination — 1984 — Geraldine Ferraro
26. Pride — 1984 — U2
27. Keynote Address for the DNC — 1984 — Mario Cuomo
28. Born In The U.S.A. — 1984 — Bruce Springsteen
Once we hit 1980, the Rolling Stone Top 500 Songs stops being as reliable of a resource. I blame the generational bias of the aging hippies who are now the editors of Rolling Stone, but that’s just me.
Fortunately, there’s still more than enough songs to fill up the 80 minutes of an audio CD once I added my chosen speeches, though they perhaps weren’t as relevant to the content of the speeches.
Reservations aside, let’s take a closer look at what I came up with.
“The Boys Are Back In Town” was the best song to start off our mix, if only because the first speech that follows it was delivered by Barbara Jordan, a black lesbian woman who first made headlines for passionately arguing in favor of Richard Nixon’s impeachment, covered on the last mix.
Jordan tells Democrats in her speech that once every American decides individually to become part of an international community, “no president can veto that decision.” Aerosmith’s 1976 hit “Walk This Way,” later famously covered by rap duo Run-D.M.C., fits in nicely here.
Egyptian leader Anwar al-Sadat petitioned for Israeli-Palestinian peace famously during the Carter administration, noting that “Pursuing peace is the only avenue which is compatible with our culture and our creed. Let there be no more wars or bloodshed.” Seminal disco hit “Stayin’ Alive” works almost too well.
Later, when Jimmy Carter worries aloud about the nation’s crisis of confidence in his administration, he seems to want to impress upon the public that he had everything under Complete Control. It isn’t anything more than coincidental that the British rock group The Clash had a song with that name in the same year, but it serves this mix to throw it in.
In an ironic twist of fate, Edward Kennedy, after a particularly bloody primary fight with Carter that dragged all the way to the nomination, insisted in 1980 that the dreams, goals and valiant effort of the Democratic Party will never be forgotten.
Republican Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, would be elected that year, radically reorganizing the political spectrum. Democrats, whose support was hugely undercut by disenchanted Reagan Democrats, tried to reorganize in 1984. They would fail.
Yet perhaps the best speech on the whole collection is the keynote that then-Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York gave to the 1984 Democratic National Convention. He posits that his Democratic party:
… which has saved this nation from depression, from facism, from racism, from corruption is called upon to do it again. This time, to save the nation from confusion and division, from the threat of eventual fiscal disaster, and, most of all, from the fear of a nuclear holocaust.
It would take an independent, third-party challenger before the Democrats would retake the White House. However critically that party railed against the Republicans, the electorate disagreed, siding with the party of Lincoln.
Bruce Springsteen would write “Born in the U.S.A” during that same election year as an anti-war protest. Reagan, ever spurring on the arms race, used in on his campaign trail to victory in spite of it.
“I’m ten years down the road, / Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.”