Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bicentennial Memories

It's been one–third of a century since America's Bicentennial year of 1976.

In early July of that year, the eventual presidential nominees, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford, were busy with their own activities.

Carter was initiating a new procedure for presumptive nominees. He was inviting prospective running mates to his home in Plains, Ga., and interviewing them. From this group, he would select his candidate for vice president.

In early July 1976, it was Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale's turn. When all was said and done, Mondale was the pick, and he turned out to be a break with the past in more ways than one. The selection process was new, and so was the role Mondale eventually played in the administration.

Previous presidents gave a lot of lip service to the idea that their vice presidents would be active participants in their administrations, but that inevitably proved to be a hollow promise. Until Carter's presidency, the vice presidency was mostly a ceremonial job. Presidential nominees, America was told, wanted to find a running mate who was most qualified to be president, but they were usually chosen for whatever electoral benefit it was believed they would bring to the ticket.

The selection seldom, if ever, reflected a genuine desire to have the best qualified person ready to step in if it became necessary.

Mondale was chosen over some big names in the Democratic Party — Frank Church, John Glenn, Ed Muskie — but he prepared for the interview by reading Carter's autobiography, "Why Not The Best?" which impressed Carter.

President Ford chose someone other than the man who had been his vice president to be his running mate, but, on the eve of the Bicentennial, he was preoccupied with the past.

During a performance of the "Honor America" program at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, he introduced and embraced one of America's legendary entertainers, Bob Hope.

Hope died at the age of 100 in 2003. His widow, Dolores, just turned 100 in May. Ford also lived a long life, dying the day after Christmas in 2006 at the age of 93. His widow, Betty, turned 91 in April.

Elsewhere, things were happening in America and the world that had more lasting consequences.

After a lengthy and bloody conflict, North and South Vietnam, which had been divided for more than 20 years, reunited and formed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The country has been committed to socialism ever since.

And, in the United States, the so–called "July 2 Cases" before the Supreme Court — Gregg v. Georgia, Proffitt v. Florida, Jurek v. Texas, Woodson v. North Carolina and Roberts v. Louisiana — ended the moratorium on the death penalty that went into effect following the court's 1972 ruling in the Furman v. Georgia case.

America continues to debate the pros and cons of capital punishment.

No comments: