In 1968, when I was working in the McCarthy Campaign against the Vietnam War, one of the producers traveling with the campaign asked me to come work with her at the CBS News Washington Bureau when the campaign ended. I was thrilled. I had, however, no idea how thrilled I really should be. Imagine a 21-year-old, just out of college and the trauma of the riots in Chicago and McCarthy's loss of the Democratic nomination (yes, we knew it would happen, but not in our hearts), walking through the door of 2020 M St. NW - the august CBS News Washington Bureau -- (Walter Cronkite's Washington Bureau!) because I had a job there.
Roger wrote a book about those years -- it's called The Place to Be because, really, that's what the bureau was in those days. And last night, on publication day, there was a party. It was better than a class reunion. Everyone from the teen-aged desk assistant (now I think in his 40s) to the Washington director to the octogenarian make-up lady, to those guys we've all heard of, were there. All having a blast remembering those remarkable years.
I've been out of the daily news business for some time, and in a way the party reminded me why. The classy, funny, unpretentious, smart, great people who taught me how to listen and pay attention, ask questions and check my sources, feed the crew first and never leave a person without getting their phone number... I hate to sound like an old fogey but there really aren't so many like that any more. For me, Roger is the dean of all of them, not only because I know him best but also because of his deep sense of honor and love of history, humor, curiosity and devotion to his family, and his unfailing kindness and generosity to me. It was wonderful to hear everyone so happy and proud for him, glad he'd finally written down some of the historic understanding and institutional memory we all treasure.
I suppose it's the same when anyone we love finds special success - a promotion, a graduation, a painting or a no-hitter, for that matter. But because of what's become of the news business, because it's now so much more business than news, because of the great joy and pride we felt and how hard we worked to earn the right to feel it, I felt a special warmth and longing last night: grateful for the opportunity I had to share what is universally regarded as a golden moment in journalism - those years in the Washington Bureau -- and so very sorry that it's so hard to find that gold - any gold -- anymore.
The three bears went for a walk and there was a little girl and her name was Goldilocks from all the dolls and they went for walk and they walked and walked (dancing walk demonstrated here) and then she sit on one of the chairs and it was too hard. And then she tried the medium one and it was too slowwww and then she found the baby one and she rocked and rocked and rocked and she fell down and the chair broke. And her tushie got hurt so she needed to go in bed And she walked and walked up the stairs and then they did something and then she ate her porridge and then she "this bed was too hard" and then "that bed was medium" and "this bed was just right." And the three bears went home and said "who has been eating my porridge?" And the Poppa said (very loud deep voice, with facial expressions to match) "WHO'S BEEN EATING MY PORRIDGE?" Then Poppa Bear said "WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED?" and then Baby Bear said "THERE SHE IS NOW!!!" and she left her shoes and ran away. And she also.....
Dad can I go outside???
(NOTE: Elana woke up early Sunday and she and I were visiting and looking out at the ocean while I worked on my computer. As Elana was leaning over my laptop in great interest her father came upstairs and suggested she "tell Cindy a story and maybe she'll put it on her blog." So she did. And I did.)
The amazing Queen of Spain, Erin Kotckei Vest, wrote yesterday about her son's 5th birthday and the war in Iraq, realizing that our country has been at war for his entire life. It's a moving and troubling meditation on the length and malignancy of this war. Take a look.
It was strange to read -- someplace between echo and deja vu. My older son was born the night Cambodia fell; I went back to work at CBS News the night Saigon fell (foreign desk - overnight) and his younger brother was born 2 days after the Iran hostages were taken. We always knew how many days old he was because Walter Cronkite ended every newscast with "that's the way it is, the xyz day American hostages have been held in Iran."
I remember nursing Josh during the horrible last days of the Vietnam war, when they were trying to get orphans out of the country. One evening at the very beginning of the effort, 78 kids died when their plane crashed. To this day I remember sitting in a chair, feeding this weeks-old child, watching the broken bodies of some else's children flung around the crash site, and just dissolving.
I don't know if it helps or hurts that this is not the first time; although in so many ways it is the worst. As horrible as the country was during Vietnam, we had our collective rage. As this picture shows, we also had the innocence that placed carnations
in the barrels of National Guard guns as they kept us at bay. And we had each other; the opposition to the war, while fractious and divided, essentially understood its unity and its shared issues. Because we'd had teach-ins and gone home and argued with our parents and had to face down counter-demonstrators at marches we had become somewhat tribal - which was bad in some ways but held us together.
The current administration, in my mind, has made it so much more painful to try to bring change; the worst part being that they should have learned enough from Vietnam not to do it this way!!! Not original but as I read Erin's heartfelt post, about her son and about all those in her family serving or having served in Iraq I got angry all over again. Last time it was arrogance on the part of people like Robert McNamara, but they did not have a Vietnam to look back on and strive to avoid. They had the model of World War II, the post-war failures that led to the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe for so long, the Marshall Plan and all the other "good wars" and American generosity that informed the very bad decisions they made. These guys today have had all Vietnam to instruct them and still did this to us.
That's why this election is so important. If we had had decent leadership five years ago we might be funding decent learning disabilities programs and well-baby clinics and alternative energy research and, if necessary, wars we DO need to fight instead of burdened by a debt that could very well still be with us when Erin's birthday boy is in college.
I love BlogHer. It's become a very important part of my life; its three remarkable founders women whose foresight and commitment guarantees every blogger a voice in its governance, tone and purpose. Right now, they're taking a reader survey. It will help them grow if you take the survey. So when they ask for survey responses, I say - let's give them some! It won't take long - give it a try. Thanks.
I used to run a television newscast for teenagers. It was tough to get them to pay much attention to the news, so one of the features I experimented with was "If you don't know the news, you can't get the jokes." Dennis Miller was doing Saturday Night Update then, and sadly, wouldn't talk to us, so the idea failed. It wasn't that original anyway; humor has always been part of American politics. But I wanted the kids to care more about it - and I thought that connecting news and cool comedy would help. I'm pretty sure I was right; political comedy is certainly a factor this year's campaign. If you're my age, you're probably sitting there thinking "Hasn't this woman ever heard of Mort Sahl? Yup. He's just turned 80 and his political humor is as sharp as ever. But he didn't have a daily "Daily Show" as a podium. Look at this:
I started thinking about this because this headline just appeared in the Media Bistro LA edition - which linked to this piece in the Washington Post. Comedy, at least this year, is an important factor in the campaign. Of course, Bill Clinton rebounded from one of his many backslides in 1992 with a saxophone-playing appearance on standup comedian and talk show host Arsenio Hall's show. This clip, in fact, appeared on Channel One, the show I used to run!
That was the second time Clinton used nightly talk as a life preserver. After this disastrous keynote convention speech in 1988
Clinton went on the Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and did the same thing. Not quite comedy but definitely popular culture. Carson had a unique impact, too. A wise Republican political consultant told me he could tell the mood of the country by listening to which jokes audiences responded to on The Tonight Show. So this year, despite all the fuss about Comedy Central, is not the first time that the worlds of entertainment and comedy have had more than a small role in choosing our leaders. And those are just in the past few elections. (OH, and don't forget JibJab. )
We aren't alone, of course. The 18th Century British cartoonist William Hogarth, is still taught in political propaganda classes. This one, The Times, is an example.
The difference today may be the ubiquitousness of any information that emerges; it's not just in some elitist newspaper, it's all over the place. It may also be the diminished influence of what used to be our respected news media. Young people (and others) turn to comedy not just because it's arch, and fun, but because it's less pretentious and heavy-handed, and treats audience members as co-conspirators rather than as a single passive body.
I worry that the deflation of our leaders that comes from the Comedy Central syndrome is as scary as it is useful. Americans like to believe; that's part of the appeal of both Obama and McCain, I think. And it's possible to believe without mindless acceptance. But if all, or most of one's information emerges from the acerbic minds of comedy writers, does it undermine any capacity to follow a leader in what are truly perilous times?
Franklin Roosevelt, through his Fireside Chats and other communications with Americans, was able to bring the country along as war drew closer. Doris Kearns Goodwin, in NO ORDINARY TIME*, one of my favorite books, tells the story of one chat in particular. FDR asked Americans, in advance, to get a
map of the world and follow along as he described the current state of the war. Maps sold
out. And the Americans who had bought them sat there by the radio and followed as Roosevelt spoke. You don't need comedy to inspire confidence when you have that kind of respect for your audience. I guess you could say that FDR was a kind of rock star who had built such a relationship with Americans during the Depression that he was in a different situation, but still, it's a provocative example to place against 5 minute guest spots with Stewart or Colbert.
This has been long and a bit rambling because I'm trying to think it all out here - and I still don't have an answer. I do think it's going to be interesting to see how long this trend lasts -- at least in this incarnation.
*go to the link and search inside under Fireside Chat and map and you will find the story (pg. 319)
Arsenio Hall, Bill Clinton, Colbert, comedy, Comedy Central, Daily Show, Fireside Chat, Franklin D Roosevelt, Goodwin, John Stewart, Johnny Carson, McCain, No Ordinary Time, Obama, politics, popular culture, Saturday Night Live
So last night I came home and parked my car and went to bed. That's all. At 8:30 this morning my doorbell rang, and outside was our lovely next-door neighbor. I thought she had gotten some of our mail ( this often happens). Silly me. She'd come to tell me that as she walked the dog, she noticed there was NO GLASS in the passenger window of my car. Just shards.
This is what I found when I came outside to look. Of course that's not the worst of it. Missing: One 20 G iPod vintage 2004 (loved it's vintage-ness) One iPod car charger One iPod radio cable One iPod Firewire and cable One BRAND NEW Garmin GPS and its suction cup thingy
NOT MISSING: My valet key All the quarters for parking meters A Trader Joe's reusable shopping bag A fancy purse I bought in Berlin that needs to be repaired
The insurance people were just lovely (of course the deductible means they probably don't owe us much; it's going to be a debate about the value of what is now a vintage iPod v an obsolete iPod.) But they helped right away and found a glass company that comes to the house and can come today so I have the car for a big appointment tomorrow and all business is done by Shabbat.
The police came fairly quickly too. And took all the information and called "crime scene" to come and look. They took some photos but basically said there wasn't much they could do. Which was what I expected.
SO. It could have been much worse. BUT I'M SO PISSED! Of course primarily that I'm so stupid. I took the GPS off the little holder and put it in the glove compartment but the police tell me that THIEVES LOOK ON THE WINDSHIELD FOR THE CIRCLE FROM THE SUCTION CUP!!! It doesn't matter if you take the machine with you; they're liable to break in anyway in the hope that you didn't. IT'S A BUSINESS.
And leaving the damn iPod in the car. How stupid can I be? But this is a sweet little neighborhood, diverse, friendly and generous and with the highest voter turnout in all of DC. It's just so sad that no matter how hard a community works to be safe, a couple of lemons can screw the whole thing. Apparently these dudes are breaking into cars all over the city. GPSs are big business. Of course the people who buy stolen ones don't feel like criminals - they leave that up to the guys who break into cars and do the stealing. It's like drugs I guess- if there were no market people wouldn't offer the product.
Anyway this is not musical prose but I'm so angry; this is a good place to vent it. Oh and if you have a GPS - take it ALL inside at night. Every night. Damn it.
I once had the opportunity to interview BB King. In preparation, I brought his latest album home and played it for my sons. The older, then around 5, asked me "Why is this man named King mommy. Pete Seeger is the king of music, right?*" Well, how do you answer that? Our boys grew up on the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, Pete and Arlo at Carnegie Hall... all rich with wonderful songs (with pretty wonderful values) for children. I asked my husband, no folkie, why he didn't complain about the "noise" - and in fact joined us every Thanksgiving at Carnegie Hall to hear Pete and later Pete and Arlo. He said (I'm paraphrasing here) "It's offering them something whole to believe in. Even if they don't always believe it - they'll understand the feeling of believing - and always seek it." As far as I can tell, that worked.
Rerack a few years though -- to the Vietnam war, when songs like this informed some of my earliest political ideas.
In fact, Pete has been a hero of mine for more than 40 years (How is that possible?) As I sit watching the AMERICAN MASTERS documentary on his life, I can't stop thinking about all the hope, idealism and dreams tied up in his music - at least in my life -- and, for a time, the lives of my sons. Seeger always has believed that music has infinite power; his own music made us believe that we could bring about the world we dreamed of. I'm embarassed by how much I long for those feelings; it's probably one reason Barack Obama and his young supporters interest me so much - they remind me of.... ME. Pretty feeble, isn't it? To still be whining about long-lost days and dreams. Most of all, to feel such rage and sadness at what we weren't able to do for our children; we leave them a world, in many ways, so much tougher than the one we inherited.
Pete, though, would hate such talk. I once met him, around the time that there were civil rights battles raging in the old Chicago Back of the Yards neighborhoods that Saul Alinsky helped to organize. I asked him if it didn't bother him that the residents there revealed attitudes so contrary to what had been fought for -- for them -- just a generation ago. His response "No. When people are empowered they have the right to want what they want. If we believe in empowerment we have to accept that too." NOT a usual man, Mr. Seeger.
The music was more than a transmission of values though -- from "A Hole in My Bucket" to Union Maid. It was our family soundtrack. One of my kids was watching WOODSTOCK while he was in college, and was astonished to hear Joan Baez singing Joe Hill - and to recognize it from when he was little (this is a bad YOUTUBE version; the proportions are off, but just listen..
In our house, that old labor song had been a lullaby. I'd learned it from Pete's concerts. Recently, so many years from those lullabies, another family favorite presented us with a great, rolicking tribute to this remarkable man. I wanted to end with a more of this (way too) sentimental tribute to Pete, but the joy of watching another generation up out of their seats in song is probably a better way to end. Right?
*He went on to become an enormous BB King (and Albert, for that matter) fan, for the record.