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Peterson: Why not a woman 40 years after Jimmy Who?

I try to be careful about how I date myself. Or how out of date I can become.

In case you were out of the country, we just had an election for president and Americans re-elected President Barack Obama. I am happy with the results, as is just about exactly half of the republic. And just about half of the republic isn't.

He's only the third man whom I've voted for who has won election. The others were Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Clinton won re-election, and Obama has won re-election, but Carter didn't. He lost to Ronald Reagan, and that was one of the darkest nights of my young college life.

But I was there in 1976 when Jimmy Who? won the presidency over unelected President Gerald Ford, who succeeded President Richard "I'm not a Crook" Nixon after he resigned on Aug. 9, 1974. I remember that quote. I remember that date. I remember watching his resignation speech on TV in our sweltering living room in Donnellson, Iowa, and man, does that date me, even if it seems like yesterday.

When I look at relevance, I try look at it in terms of an 18-year-old, when I first voted for president, and that was Jimmy Who? That was 36 years ago. So, I think – and I thought this back then – who was elected president 36 years before that? It was Franklin Roosevelt. Oh, my gosh.

When I was 18 years old, I was thinking Roosevelt was some guy from distant history who pulled the United States out of the Great Depression, who spoke about "a day that will live in infamy," who went to war against Germany and Japan, who died in office after being elected to a fourth term, whose school I went to in kindergarten.

That was something I read about in the history books. And Harry Truman who succeeded him wasn't any more relevant. Or Dwight Eisenhower, for that matter, a World War II hero.So, today, when I say I voted for Jimmy Who? in 1976, it's like I'm saying I voted for Franklin Roosevelt. It is ancient history.

Jimmy Who? earned that surname when the peanut farmer and former governor of Georgia ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1976. Not many people could name the governor of Georgia, much less a former governor. But he won the Iowa caucuses in January and the New Hampshire primary in February, and beat back about a dozen other candidates to win the nomination and the presidency.

In response to Jimmy Who?, he would open his campaign speeches with, "My name is Jimmy Carter, and I'm running for president," to the guffaws of his ever-growing audiences. He even did it at the national convention when he accepted the nomination.

I participated in the Iowa caucuses in 1976, even though I was only 17 years old – I would be 18 by Election Day, so I counted. But I can't claim credit for helping propel Jimmy Who? to the nomination that night.

In my precinct of Donnellson, population 800, our caucus consisted of two people, me and an old guy whose name I can't remember, who was in favor of Jimmy Who? from the start. And I wasn't enthused about the peanut farmer, so I cast my ballot in public for all to see for Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh. "All" was one other person. The "old guy" was probably about my age today. He probably voted for Roosevelt and Truman, too.

But I voted for Jimmy Who? on Nov. 2, 1976, and all of this Carter talk has young people scratching their heads. Not a lot of history was made during his time in office, not like Roosevelt, but he has had a successful post-presidency, so more people remember him for his work that won him the Nobel Peace prize 10 years ago than they do for him being president.

No, I didn't vote for Carter in 1980, when I sided for Barry Commoner, a third-party candidate who had a solid energy policy, and even more heads are being scratched. It would be 16 years before I voted for a candidate who won the presidency, Bill Clinton. And I voted for him when he won re-election. Then it would be eight years before I voted for another winner, Barack Obama.

That's five of 10 presidential terms, which is about the same odds as flipping a coin and it landing on heads. But only three men have been president whom I've voted for. But if I were voting for Republicans, only three different men would have been president, as well.

And the word "men" when I write it is like fingernails screeching across a chalkboard. It's about time a woman is elected president. I say that so as not to date myself. But, really, isn't it about time? We will be electing a new president in four years, so why not a woman? Lord knows there's plenty of no-names out there already plotting for 2016, which will be 40 years after I voted for Jimmy Who?

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He may be contacted at

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