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Friday, April 10, 2009

When Will They Lose Walter?

They're using words like triumphant, spectacular, rapturous and brilliant. Not the President's press secretaries, but crusty old journalists with CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. This is not the first time in history that the Democrats have enjoyed mainstream media support. I remember the 60's and the way the press swooned over JFK; covering up his sexual indiscretions and glossing over his problems with his cabinet, the Congress and the Soviet Union. A massive blunder like the Bay of Pigs that would have consumed a Republican in a vicious media feeding frenzy, was allowed to slide with out the "thundering from Olympus" that might have followed - surely would have followed in today's press had a Republican stumbled as JFK did.

Johnson knew he had a honeymoon with the press after Kennedy's death and played it for all he was worth with speeches meant to stir the popular imagination with high blown rhetoric about a "Great Society" and a "War on Poverty" and "Civil Rights". All the while he was running a disastrous war in Vietnam, so terrified of the media that was covering it more closely than any war in history, that he wound up micro-managing the fiasco from the oval office. The military couldn't conduct effective warfare because the President and Secretary of Defense were afraid to do anything really effective.

As a result a lot of American soldiers died. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congress stonewalled him on Civil Rights, though they were quite willing to throw money at their constituents to buy votes. That was something they knew about. Most, however, didn't see the point in overturning a whole way of life so that some black people could vote and drink from water fountains. It wound up taking solid Republican support for Johnson to push through any sort of decent Civil Rights legislation.

He ran the War on Poverty pretty much as effectively as he ran the war in Vietnam, only not so many people died. One night, he watched in horror as Walter Cronkite, an old war correspondent himself, raked the government over the coals over how they were handling the Vietnam war.

Johnson turned to his wife, Ladybird, and lamented, "We've lost Walter." Shortly after that, he dropped out of the race for reelection. Cagey old politician that he was, Johnson knew what was going to happen at the Chicago Convention and it certainly did.

So far, Barak Obama still holds the media in thrall. The only discordent note is a strident opposition to his policies from the new conservative media, led by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Fox News and a conservative press that is growing rapidly even as traditional old conservative newspapers like the Boston Globe and Rocky Mountain News face bankruptcy.

This is not Lyndon Johnson's America. A diverse press means opinions are being heard on our televisions, radios and in the print media that went unexpressed in the 60's until that stodgy old liberal, Cronkite, finally got fed up with it and turned on the Democrats. After that, the gloves were off as Nixon, Agnew and Ford later discovered. It's been bare-knuckles ever since.

Until the rather recent rise of the right wing news commentator, it was pretty much a leftist gang bang. Ronald Reagan had a rough time of it, but being an old newsman himself, he successfully created his own White House news bureau that went 'round the mainstream press and straight to the people. It worked magnificently to the discomfiture of the cast of crusty old liberals that read us our evening news. Reagan's conservative populism pointed the way for folks like Limbaugh and Fox to achieve success against an apparent irresistable media tide.

I read yesterday that Barak Obama's presidency, far from unifying the country as he promised he would, has more sharply divided America than it has been since the late 1850's. Obama likes to compare his presidency to that of Abraham Lincoln - ironically, the first Republican president in our nation's history and a president who saw states begin seceding from the Union in anticipation of his taking the oath of office.

But Lincoln only inherited a divided nation. Inept presidents like James Buchanan before him had been playing games of political brinksmanship for decades before Lincoln was elected. Whether Obama is a Buchanan or a Lincoln remains to be seen. So far, I haven't seen much of honest Abe in our new commander-in-chief.

But, the Europeans and the Muslims love him Mainly, that seems to be because he keeps smiling while they tell him "no" to virtually everything he asks for. They haven't seen that for 8 years and I think it's a relief to them all.

An America whose teeth are all capped and pretty and not fanged and dangerous is what they want to see. It's also, apparently, an America that 44% of Americans absolutely do NOT want to see.

And that number is rising.......



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