Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Where's The Beef?

 Well, as we increasingly understand how environmentally damaging producing beef is, quite aside from lots of other issues, the proper issue should probably be, "nowhere."  But back in the early 1980s a fast food outlet, Wendy's (I originally said Arby's) ran an ad with this line that indicated that the beef was at their outlet while their competitors just did not have the real beef, what all potential customers really wanted.  Wendy's has never been all super successful although somewhat so, but many considered this to be an effective ad that appealed to lots of people.

So during the campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 when "New Democrat" Gary Hart took the lead in polls with his appeal to high tech and a certain sleek cool, his chief rival Walter Mondale threw this ad line at him regarding what he considered to be the superficial nature of Hart's positions and appeal, "Where's the beef?"  It was viewed as an appeal to working class Dems and labor unions not likely to gain from the high tech oriented policies pushed by Hart. His remark made a splash and seems to have slowed Hart's momentum and helped Mondale's campaign, who would eventually get the nomination, although what finally did Hart in for sure was a sex scandal that erupted around him.  In any case, while I have seen some sneer now upon his death at Mondale's use of this ad line, it may well have symbolized that Mondale did have a depth Hart did not.  Of course, many dismiss Mondale because he went down to massive defeat in the election against Reagan, taking only DC and his home stare of Minnesota.  But in that year following the highest rate of GDP growth we have seen since in the US no Dem was going to defeat Reagan's "Morning in America" campaign.  Mondale ran a noble but hopeless campaign.

Anyway, this honorable progressive politician has now died at age 93.  We have not heard all that much out of him since his 1984 loss, but he had an admirable record.  Minnesota produced several highly progressive politicians, including Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone.  But Walter Mondale was part of that tradition.  Humphrey was the one who talked the Democratic Party in 1948 to adopt its first pro-civil rights plank at its convention, a plank that led Strom Thurmond, who would later become a Republican, to walk out of the convention and run as an independent "Dixiecrat."  It is not widely known or remembered that Mondale, who also served as US senator, was the main author of the Fair Housing Act, an appropriate successor to Humphrey's efforts.

Another important thing he did that we now take for granted, although it was ultimately the doing of Jimmy Carter, but Walter Mondale was apparently the first US vice president to be actively and regularly involved in the day to day governing of the United States, which indeed was due to Carter inviting him to do that and supporting him in doing so.  Now we have since seen a case where a VP got out of control, namely Dick Cheney on foreign and intel policy under George W. Bush.  But I must say that in general I think this is better if just for making any VP more prepared to be president if the president dies in office. Prior to Mondale all vice presidents had been pushed aside to attend funerals and inaugurate ships, if even that much.  FDR's first VP, John Nance Garner, famously remarked that the vice presidency was "not worth a bucket of warm spit," although it is alleged that last word was one not quite as polite.  And that was how it had always been.  The now late Walter Mondale changed that.

Barkley Rosser


Kenneth Thomas said...

Actually, "Where's the Beef?" was a line from a Wendy's commercial, not Arby's.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Thanks, I stand corrected, Kenneth. Will fix.

2slugbaits said...

People tend to forget this, but I believe it was in the second presidential debate that Mondale exposed just how worrisome Reagan's mental faculties had declined. This was really the first time that Reagan's encroaching Alzheimer's was put on full display to the public. It took a stronger third debate before Reagan was back on track to a landslide win. But there was a brief period between those debates where it looked like Mondale might have a shot at beating the Gipper.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Two followups on the 2slugbaits.

One is that a substantial part of the "Morning in America" low inflation boom that preceded the election was the tight monetary policy that played a major role in the inflation decline that involved a very deep but brief recession early in Reagan's first term was put in place and carried through on by then Fed Chair Paul Volcker. But Volcker had been appointed and had initiated that policy in 1979 by Jimmy Carter, supported by his VP Walter Mondale, with policy damaging economic growth prior to the 1980 election, helping to elect Reagan initially. Mondale was partly the victim of a successful policy he had helped initiate.

The second is that indeed during his second term Reagan did some quite admirable things, notably the move to make important deals such as the 1987 intermediate nuclear arms agreement with Soviet leader Gorbachev, with these policies leading to the end of the Cold war as we had known it, this policy pushed by Nancy Reagan of all people. However, I suspect Mondale would have pursued something like this with Gorbachev if he had gotten elected.

kevin quinn said...

When I talk to students about nominal vs. real interest rates, I sometimes mention the 1984 VP debate between the elder Bush and Geraldine Ferraro. Bush, touting the achievements of Reagan's first term, included lowering interest rates. Ferraro correctly pointed out that while nominal rates had come down, real rates had gone up and were still, in 1984, higher than when Reagan took office. To which Poppy replied, "Well, nobody cares about real interest rates but economists" -- or something to that effect.