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Column: I couldn’t stand ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’ Then Biden and Harris were elected

A woman holds up a sign that reads Sanity restored, Biden 2020
Angelenos celebrate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ election victory near Los Angeles City Hall on Saturday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“Happy Days Are Here Again.”

For decades, that was the unofficial theme song of the Democratic Party. A band played the song at the 1932 Democratic National Convention that nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt for president. Then FDR made it his campaign song.

As a young man I loved the song — until the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Starting then, I abhorred it for 52 years.

I was a newspaper reporter, sitting in the convention hall during the joyless meeting’s final night when the band struck up “Happy Days.” Outside, the cops were beating up thousands of kids who were protesting the Vietnam War. Inside, pro-war and antiwar factions had ripped apart the party.

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Delegates nominated Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey for president. Millions considered him a stooge of the war-pushing President Lyndon B. Johnson. With Democrats fractured, Republican Richard Nixon was elected in November. That year, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated.

There were very few happy days for Democrats — or for America — in 1968. The song was an affront to the senses. And it gradually faded away.

But on Saturday, the song would have been perfect for Democrats and much of America.

Voters sent their lying, bullying, sourpuss president a stern message: “You’re fired.”

Joe Biden, illustrating the rewards of persistence and tenaciousness, was elected president.

There’s a Trumanesque quality to Biden.

Like President Truman, Biden tends to be underrated. Both came from middle America and working-class roots. There’s no flash. But lots of homespun. And that’s what more than 75 million Americans voted for after being worn down by four years of Trump’s classless bluster.

This country was great until President Trump was elected, running on a once-inconceivable demagogic message that the USA’s days of greatness were behind her. He then steadily proceeded to prove his claim, fracturing the nation and sullying its image overseas.

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President Ford, after replacing the scandalized, resigned President Nixon in 1974, “perhaps put it best,” said Charles McFadden, a former wire service colleague, in an email. “’Our long national nightmare is over.’”

People danced in the streets all over America on Saturday, celebrating Trump’s ouster and the historic election of the first female vice president, California Sen. Kamala Harris. She’s also the first Black person and the first Asian American to be elected vice president.

Counting Biden, there will have been 15 U.S. presidents in my lifetime. I don’t recall people ever before taking to the streets to celebrate the election of a presidential ticket. That’s what people do in authoritarian countries when a dictator is toppled.

And in most democracies, electing a woman to lead the nation is relatively commonplace.

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This is the 100th anniversary of American women being granted the constitutional right to vote — and therefore the eligibility to run for office. It has taken this long for a woman to be elected on a presidential ticket.

California shouldn’t gloat about producing the first female vice president. We still haven’t elected a female governor — or any governor of color.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris told a nationally televised victory rally Saturday night.

“Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

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The Times asked political strategists for the most likely contenders from whom Newsom might choose to replace Harris for the rest of her Senate term.

My political junkie granddaughter, Frances Barbour, a senior at George Washington University in D.C., emailed me after TV networks called the election for Biden and Harris:

“Awesome day in America. Too close of an election, though. Nevertheless, [Democrats] did it.”

Yes, more than 70 million people voted for Trump. Democrats failed to take control of the Senate — they still could in two Georgia runoff elections — and their House majority was trimmed.

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As Congress now stands, it will require all of Biden’s honed political skills to achieve any compromise legislation. Not just Republicans but liberal Democrats will need to give much to make Biden a successful president.

“We’re going to have to reflect on why 70 million people voted for Trump,” my granddaughter said when I called her. For starters, they feel left out of the Democrats’ world, I told her.

I called her mom — my daughter — political strategist Karen Skelton, who as a teen constantly wore a T-shirt reading: “Women belong in the House and the Senate.”

“My daughters now have a belief that anything is truly possible in this country,” she said. “For their generation, young women have a future that has no barriers to leadership in this country.

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That victory resonated with many girls and women who are Black or Asian or Latina or mixed race.

“Of course, Kamala stands on the shoulders of many women.”

She mentioned Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black candidate for the presidential nomination of a major party; also Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential nominee of a major party, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major party. All were Democrats.

Harris turned out to be a perfect VP selection for Biden. He was comfortable with Harris, largely because of her close working relationship with his late son Beau when both were state attorneys general.

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Harris did what VP candidates must: not mess up. In fact, she was an asset. Harris had a good debate with Vice President Mike Pence in her most important campaign performance. And she was a tireless campaigner.

As a Black woman, Harris helped Biden be competitive in Georgia.

Another asset for Biden in Georgia was Stacey Abrams, a former legislator and the first Black woman to be nominated by a major party for governor, a race she narrowly lost. In this election, she led a coalition that registered more than 800,000 previous nonvoters.

Perhaps Abrams should become the next chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

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“Today I see a city-on-a-hill country that I grew up believing in,” granddaughter Frances told me. “The sun has come out.”

From that old Democratic theme song:

“The skies above are clear again

So, let’s sing a song of cheer again.

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Happy days are here again.”

Enjoy. Days will be gloomy again soon enough.


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