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Fill Your Thimbles

Review of James Cameron in The Guardian book…

So the 2016 American POTUS primaries are over for another term. An electoral system which seems bizarre even to an English voter who has seen its country’s politics and party electoral systems put through the grinder since the new year. America and indeed the world is now faced with two candidates who could barely be less popular, a situation which speaks volumes for those who were beaten and the dearth of quality candidates across the political landscape.

Hilary Clinton spews out straplines to inspire a nation into believing that despite the fact her party has held office for the past two terms they can make America great again. When, I wonder will that actually happen? But if the voters don’t believe the Democrats are up to the job then fear not because Donald Trump can, all by himself according to one Donald Trump. Yes, once his ‘Russian friends’ have revealed Hillary’s email misdemeanours in their entirety then he will, he believes, get shoehorned into the Oval Office. It is indeed a remarkable election.

So how does this compare to previous elections? For that answer I turn to none other than the late James Cameron for historical guidance. Published in the year of his death in 1985, Cameron In The Guardian is a collection of the regular columns he wrote for The Guardian newspaper, a series of articles which dealt with global issues throughout the late seventies and into the early eighties. His style was unique, he wrote in a manner which drew the reader in, Cameron was talking to YOU and nobody else. He dealt with the facts however unsavoury and made no attempt to cover up his disgust at something which appalled him. He was the link between the straight-laced journalism of the first half of the 20th century and the passionate, hard-hitting form which took shape in the sixties. Cameron was admired on both sides of the Atlantic and so I found myself drawn to one of his accounts of the Carter-Reagan election of 1980. Carter was the incumbent President and Reagan the contender in an election dominated by the disastrous Iranian hostage crisis.

Four years earlier Cameron had described how the then Presidential hopeful Carter like to be called Jimmy. Referring to their shared first name Cameron wrote “It is hard to come to terms with a great nation whose President-elect , having a matchless first name, insists on being called Jimmy. When they do it to me I flinch, but it makes Carter beam, and that as we all know is a Grand Canyon of a beam”  By 1980 the election was a straight fight between ‘the peanut famer and the cowboy’, Cameron wrote of one Republican slogan as saying “Why not a cowboy for President? We’ve had four years of a clown” It ‘chilled Cameron’s blood’. It was an election which was dominated by Cold War rhetoric, an aimless exercise in who could be more globally insular to ending a senseless stand-off. As Cameron observed it led to a dull contest fighting for the centre ground and not for the first time does he reference his good friend and American equivalent, the legendary Studs Terkel who wrote of the election: “If I had a thimble and poured into it the difference between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, I would still have room for a double martini”

By 1984 and in one of his last columns Cameron wrote: “I have often advanced the theory that the reason why successive US presidential candidates diminish in stature and quality with every four-yearly election-and take a look at everyone since Roosevelt-it is that any American of intellect and value is scared to stand in case he should get in, and thus join the catalogue of no-goods or nonentities who have inhabited the White House in our time” Interesting to note he saw no reason to write ‘he or she’, a sign then of some progress in American politics. He leaves the last word and an appropriate one to Adlai Stevenson, an American intellect who once told Cameron “I am standing for election knowing, that it may be the last independent decision I ever make, and not a very smart one at that”

Cameron was writing at a time when Reagan was pouring billions into the arms race and the so-called ‘Star Wars’ defence system. They were dangerous times, Reagan’s bible-thumping anti-communist speeches doing little to find a peaceful solution between the two superpower nations and he was rightly worried. ‘I am frightened of contemporary America, and even more so of the America to come…a thoughtful liberal America takes a lot of beating. Sometimes needs it too.”

Cameron In The Guardian is a wonderful book, it covers a multitude of subjects and for anyone with an interest in 20th century political history it would prove an amusing and insightful read. There really was only one James Cameron.

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