Monday, January 28, 2008
Personal Asides: Sun-Times Does Well in Firing Elfman, Poorly in Letting Ace Religion Writer Go Key Presidential Candidates Going Through Shifts in Presentation
Having to unload a number of employees, the Chicago Sun-Times, has made some grossly wrong choices under Michael Cooke but some good ones as well. The best decision thus far has been to throw over the side Doug Elfman a TV editor of lamentable taste; the worst by far is torpedoing the best religion writer in the city, Susan Hogan/Albach. Another is to keep the religion columnist, the sad joke that is Cathleen Falsani, who writes like a bubble-gum chewing shallow Hippie-sounding nihilist, famous for ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead with which she serenaded the death of Jerry Falwell. Of course the ex-publishers wife, Jennifer Hunter, is still on the payroll and running up expenses as a political writer one of three covering Barack Obama. What clout has Jennifer Hunter retained now that her husband and the only possible reason she was promoted to political writer has vacated?
The ex-publisher, John Cruickshank, has returned to Canada to run a TV station there but wifey Jennifer continues on the Sun-Times staff. If anyone should have been fired it is she: her stories are vapid and predictable. And then, there is the triple-paid Carol Marin, chalking up state-by-state travels on the Sun-Times dime, getting paid for the same dreadful gibberish by NBC-TV and diminishing the taxpayer-supported payroll of WTTW-TV with predictable and yawningly unmemorable excursions in boilerplate political trivia while that station calls around to replenish its coffersyet still paying Marin. God, are we that hard up for political journalists covering politics that we have to have her summation of the Democratic presidential race so pertinent, so relevant, so challenging, so rhetorically sparkling with which she concluded yesterdays newspaper column: this will be a fight to the finish! By which she evidently means there will be a fight until it is finished. This stale porridge from the successor to the late Steve Neal oh forget it.
Shifts in Presentation: Lincoln.
Almost all successful presidential candidates have through the years gone through shifts in presentation. When Abraham Lincoln ran for president he observed the general custom of being silent on the issues and resting on his previous recordwhich meant since he had been a private citizen during much of the struggle his views enunciated in the 1858 senatorial debates with Stephen A. Douglas. It is amazing now to consider that remaining silent on the issues for nominees was the standard operating procedure for campaigns while supporters carried the day.
In the presidential campaign of 1860 regular Democratic nominee Stephen A. Douglas violated custom and barnstormed the country but National Democratic nominee John C. Breckinridge and Constitutional Union nominee John Bell stayed home and mute, like Lincoln.
How did Lincoln shift? His stand in 1858 had been indistinguishable from Douglas on (a) continuation of white supremacy,(b) the right to hold slaves in the South, (c) the right to retrieve runaway slaves and (d) the need to preserve the Union. The dividing issue between them was (a) the immorality of slavery and (b) whether it should be allowed to expand into the territories. Douglas believed that voters in the territories should have the right to either endorse slavery or abolish it; Lincoln opposed the expansion. When Lincoln put Douglas in a rhetorical trick box in 1858 he maimed Douglas for the presidency two years later. The trick box: You say, Mr. Douglas, you support the Dred Scott decision but you also say you support the territories right to vote on slavery. How can you have it both ways? Dred Scott found that slavery was an inalienable right. Let me ask you this, Mr. Douglas: If a territory wants to keep slavery out by popular vote, how can it reconcile itself with Dred Scott?
Douglas answered: by not enforcing Dred Scott. Great Scott! said the South: this guy has sold us out! So by staying mum in 1860 Lincoln won. But we know his views on slavery were evolvingevolving to the point that he was willing to suspend constitutional liberties to keep the Union together in time of war a kind of contradiction. The people learned after his election in 1860 how strongly he felt.
Franklin Roosevelt ran for the presidency in 1932 on the pledge of submitting a balanced budget yet promising increased aid to business under the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, increased aid to farmers in stabilizing prices; for the jobless he pledged immediate relief and public works projects. All achievable with a balanced budget? Of course not. He hadnt the faintest idea of the extensive programs he would launch when he ran, as Jim Farley acknowledged. His means of presentation changed by the day and week.
In 1952 Dwight Eisenhower realized the Korean War was nigh unto insolvable without a threat of nuclear reprisal on China but to mention this possibility would be political disaster. On the other hand there was the political impossibility of supporting the continued stalemate in negotiations that was being carried on. And to make things even more complicated, there was the political impossibility of endorsing Douglas MacArthurs recommendation of taking the war into China. Some political sleight of hand had to be employed.
The campaign did not particularly go Ike until October, 1952 when his strategists hit upon a public relations device that was not a solution but sounded like it was: the declaration if elected, I will go to Korea. The meaning was clear but unstated: a 5-star general, hero of World War II would go to Korea to see first-hand what to do, which trumped any card the Democrats might play. But what did this mean in realistic terms? Go to Korea and decide to enlarge the war? Go to Korea and decide to sweeten the bargain to get us out of war? Go to Korea and decide to go further into China? Eisenhower said nothing. Just that I will go to Korea.
Adlai Stevenson couldnt counter that. Eisenhower was elected and indeed went to Korea as president elect in December, 1952. What we didnt know was that as the negotiations droned on following his presidency, Ike sent word roundabout that he would use nuclear weaponswhich caused China to put pressure on the North Koreans to settle and settle they didin July, 1953. Had Eisenhower told the voters candidly when he was running that he would use that device, there is every indication he would have been defeated because the risk could involve nuclear conflagration and World War III.
Switches in Presentations Today.
On the Democratic side, Barack Obama is a symphony in switched presentations. Once he indicated he would pull the troops out of Iraq ASAP. Now it varies as time goes on. Hillary Clinton voted for the resolution that was interpreted as support for the Iraq War. Now she talks about a phased withdrawal, battalion by battalion at a spaced interval. But no one believes there is a fulsome discussion carried out until after electionfor the reason that neither she nor Obama want to tie their hands unduly and lose the election with an unpopular stand.
On the Republican side, only John McCain has been straightforward on winning the Iraq War. It is consistent with his original stance as a first-termer from Arizona, a conservative, pro-tax cut guy in the mode of Ronald Reagan. Then he ran for president against George W. Bush. He won New Hampshire but, angered at Bush for defeating him in South Carolina and ending his presidential hopes (he thought then) he took a decidedly anti-Bush turn in the Senateopposing the Bush tax cuts, taking a more liberal stand on another of initiatives that Bush opposed, just to vex Bush. It was a standard political operation. Result: he lost much of the conservative Republican base. Now in running again, he is repositioning himself as the John McCain of old, the Ronald Reagan devotee. But on one major issue he has never deviated: winning the Iraq War.
Mitt Romney has presented himself variouslyas a moderate to liberal Republican to win election as governor of Massachusetts then in a lightning turn-around as a Ronald Reagan conservative to seek the presidential nomination. He presented himself first as a presidential candidate as a born-again Reaganite. But now he has changed the presentation without tossing overboard the Reagan stuff. He is the superbly sophisticated businessman and economic expert of the private sector which can lead us to overcome our economic woes as he led Bain to great wealth.
Republicans Need to be Realistic.
As this will enrage many Republicans who read this, it is necessarily true that variance in presentations have accompanied all major presidential candidacies. Ronald Reagan crusaded in 1980 to, among other things, abolish the Department of Education. What did he do when he got in? He appointed as secretary of education Terrell Bell who supported continuation of the department and it was continuedbecause, confronted with other problems, Reagan perceived he didnt need to rile up congressional liberals from whom he needed to achieve support for tax cuts to revive the economy and a stronger defense which was key to overcoming the USSR.
He campaigned against Jimmy Carter saying he would never yield to terrorists but in Iran Contra his peopleOliver Northsolicited sultans, Saudis and Swiss bankers to fund them behind the backs of the people in order to enable the Contras to win in Nicaragua. No use railing about me for writing thisReagan was still one of our greatest presidents. But it is one thing to listen to Rush Limbaugh and thrill to his uncompromising rhetoric and to govern.
Thats why the first thing Republicans should do in 2008 is to consider what the chances are to keep the White House. Are the chances very good? I dont think so: with an unpopular War, an unpopular president, an economy that could be weakening. Then you decide who can win? Can Ron Paul win? I dont think so. Can Mitt Romney win? Maybe (hes my first choice). But if it comes down to John McCain and he is the only way to win, he should be nominated.
I like Rush Limbaugh as well as the next guybetter, actually, since he is the master of my newly adopted trade--but as a talk show host myself who held posts in federal and state government and who ran campaigns in two states let me tell you it is vastly easier sitting in front of a microphone pontificating in uncompromising tones than in actually performing the tasks in the cold light of day in a system that demands support of the electorate to pick a president.
There, Ive said it. Now let the great purists have at me. Go! Have a field day.