Thursday, September 22, 2005
Why Bother With Jimmy Carter When a Skeleton Named Dooley Wants to Speak?
I went to the Jimmy Carter Town Hall event at Emory University last night. It came off well but something strange happened before Carter spoke. I'll get to that in a minute.
Jimmy Carter is an impressive guy, there's no way around it. He's funny, warm, and engaged in both American foreign policy and the plight of the world's poorest residents. He had a lot of interesting things to say last night, like stories about the continuing work of Habitat For Humanity and the Carter Center, stories of terrible (and disgusting) diseases ravaging African villages, opinions about the Iraq war ("unnecessary, unjust") and North Korea and Iran's nuclear ambitions ("they do not respond well to threats").
He also told a great story about getting the hostages out of Iran. For 3 days prior to Reagan's inauguration, Carter didn't sleep. He was on the phone negotiating for the hostages' release. On Reagan's Inauguration Day, the Iranians had the 52 hostages on a plane at the Tehran airport's runway, ready to be freed finally. But the plane stayed on the runway, hour after hour. At noon, after Reagan was sworn-in as President of the United States, the plane was allowed to take off. Carter was on the reviewing stand with the new President when he was told the plane had taken off. He said it was one of the happiest moments of his life and hearing him tell it, you really believe it. Though there have been allegations that Reagan's people (and perhaps even Reagan himself) made a deal with the Iranians to officially free the hostages after Reagan was sworn-in, Jimmy Carter said he hadn't seen any evidence to support that. He said he believed the reason the plane was held on the runway was because the Ayatollah didn't want Carter to get credit for freeing the hostages. Either way, it was a shit deal for Carter. The next day he flew to Germany where the hostages were waiting at a US military base. They were all waiting in a room. Carter didn't know how they were going to react to him. Would they be pissed he hadn't found a way to free them earlier? He went inside. One of the hostages saw him, walked up to him, put his arms around him and said, "Thank you." The rest did the same. Fade out.
Now to the strange incident that preceded Carter's Q&A session.
I was sitting up in the bleachers with all of the undergrads. I, in my shirt and tie and nice pants and shoes, and they in their jean skirts, t-shirts and flip-flops, were packed in tightly. Going to the bathroom would have been a major ordeal. In front of me a girl was text messaging into her cell phone, "I love u more than anyone." Behind me some undergrads were talking about the questions they wanted to submit to Carter. One wanted to ask Carter who he thought was cooler: pirates or ninjas? A discussion about who would win in a fight ensued and I wondered if I was ever that dopey when I was in college, and I realized the answer was, yes, a hundred-times moreso and still am. Off to my left, on the far-side of the gym where students were still filing in, I saw a guy in a black robe, hunched slightly and using a cane, wearing a skull mask. I asked the guy next to me, "What's with the guy in the skull mask?"
"Oh, that's Dooley," he said, smiling proudly.
I gave a laugh as though I knew who the eff Dooley was, and left it at that. (I need to start following up on questions I ask). Anyway. So there's "Dooley" surrounded by a bunch of people in white gloves and sunglasses. I'm weirded out. What's this freak going to do when he sees Carter? Does the Secret Service know this Dooley character is here in the gym? Is Dooley going to be some part of some elaborate and terrible practical joke that ends with Carter on the ground, clutching his chest and gasping? I am uneasy. After a while, Carter comes out. The Student Government president (the one who'd made headlines in recent days by "declaring war" on Washington University) introduces himself, talks about Carter, then introduces Dooley.
I look over and see Dooley escorted to the podium by his coterie of somber dramoid kids in their gloves and glasses. The applause lasts for only a fourth of Dooley's slow walk. The other three-fourths were conducted in slightly awkward silence. I looked and saw Carter watching Dooley's approach with a polite smile plastered on his face. Dooley FINALLY gets there and sits down one seat over from the former President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. One of Dooley's sunglasses-wearing minions comes to the lectern and starts reading a "message from Dooley". She reads the prepared text like she was in a school play playing the role of "really boring ghost". Her voice was monotone, her tone lofty (she kept referring to us as "mortals" because Dooley is, as you know, "immortal") and talked about how good Carter was and then some stuff about Katrina and the Iraq war, and a bunch of other crap. I was getting more embarrassed by the moment. I kept looking down at Peggy (who was an usher for this event) hoping to catch her eye so I could roll mine at her. Carter, the man who was once leader of the free world is standing, waiting to speak, everyone's there to hear Carter answer questions, and this chick in sunglasses is droning on and on and on about nothing. I mean, who cares what an UNOFFICIAL MASCOT has to say about anything?
I looked at the clock. Carter got there at 8:04 PM. The Mouth of Dooley was talking until 8:15 PM. I know 11 minutes isn't exactly a lifetime, but when you're listening to a fake persona embodying a goofy college tradition that's been allowed to flourish all out of proportion to it's actual worth as an unofficial mascot, and then BY PROXY no less, it sure as hell feels like a lifetime.
Dooley was eventually led off the podium and after three more minutes or so, (after the president of Emory introduced Carter... again), Carter was finally allowed to speak. The talk was supposed to go until 9 PM. At 9:04 PM, the moderator called the Town Hall to a close. Carter and his wife, Rosalynd, scurried off with a few waves and that was it. Anyway, as you can tell, I was slightly peeved that Dooley and a bunch of Emory functionaries ate about 20 or so minutes into Carter's very limited talk-time. So next time I'm invited to one of these things, the first thing I'll ask is: "Will Dooley be there?" Because if so, I won't.