From the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web blog comes a great piece reflecting the history of political reporting from the 1980’s with the political reporting of today. All the whining that we read in the MSM was previously espoused by the same MSM 32 years ago. Fascinating…
“In the same years when presidential politics changed so greatly, governing did, too,” writes the Times’s Tom Wicker: “It got harder. . . . The rise of single-interest politics and independent legislators has made it more difficult to put together a governing coalition; sophisticated new lobbying techniques wielded on behalf of virtually every interest group further complicate the task. And a strong argument could be made that the major issues–energy and the economy, for instance–are more complex than they were.”
Hey, wait a minute. Didn’t Tom Wicker die last year?
Why yes he did. That quote came from a column he wrote in April 1980, the last time a Democratic president was in the midst of an unsuccessful re-election bid. And he’s not the only one whose 32-year-old plaints sound awfully familiar.
“The Presidency today is entangled in the great crisis of all established authority,” wrote Henry Graff, a Columbia University historian (now emeritus) in the Times July 25, 1980. “Executives of every kind–political, educational, ecclesiastical, corporate–are under incessant public attack.” Those damn blogs! The president’s life, Graff wrote, “is under such relentless scrutiny that he can only seem ordinary, never extraordinary. No man is a hero to his valet, and America is now a nation of valets.”
Graff did not mention Twitter, blogs, Facebook and so on and so forth.
“Watching President Carter try to juggle all the contradictory foreign and domestic problems of the nation during a presidential election and an economic recession, you have to wonder who can do it and who can govern America,” wrote James Reston, another Times columnist, in June 1980.
Reston, who died in 1995, concluded: “Carter’s campaign theme is clear. It is that while the economic figures are not on his side, the economic ‘trends’ are changing for the better, and that, as he hopes to demonstrate in his meetings with world figures, he knows more about foreign policy than [Ted] Kennedy, Reagan or [John] Anderson.”
Then again, it’s easy to be whipsawed by events.
“The presidency has grown, and grown and grown, into the most powerful, most impossible job in the world,” declared the subheadline of a Jan. 13, 1980, Washington Post story, whose author, Walter Shapiro, has since ascended to Yahoo! News.
Titled “Voters Expect to Elect a Mere Mortal,” the Shapiro story (quoted by the Media Research Center) observed: “Voters have lowered their expectations of what any president can accomplish; they have accepted the notion that this country may never again have heroic, larger-than-life leadership in the White House. . . . Some voters have entirely discarded textbook notions about presidential greatness and believe that Carter is doing as good a job as anyone could in facing new and difficult problems and in coping with an independent and restive Congress.”
In August 1980 (in a story not available online), Post reporter Robert G. Kaiser, now an editor, described the speech in which Carter accepted the Democratic nomination:
President Carter in 1980 had to try to explain why he had not become the sort of leader Jimmy Carter promised to be in 1976. . . .
Not surprisingly, this 1980 Carter sounded much more defensive. Carter’s 1976 acceptance speech contained no negative references to . . . Gerald R. Ford. it was entirely a positive statement.
About a fourth of last night’s speech was devoted to lambasting the Republicans and Ronald Reagan. If the Grand Old Party should win in November, Carter said, “I see despair . . . I see surrender . . . I see risk.” He also sees repudiation, of course, which explains his defensiveness. . . .
Carter’s acceptance speech in 1976 was a magical moment, perhaps the high point of his political career. Carter spoke quietly that night in the lilting cadence of a Baptist preacher with a sure sense of himself and his message. . . .
There was no magic in Thursday night’s speech. Instead, a weary convention heard the sounds of slogging from a worried politician who knows he is in deep trouble.
Listen closely and you can hear the sounds of slogging echo across the decades. They emanate not just from the failed president but from sympathetic journalists trying to absolve him of the responsibility for his failure.
We learned in the 1980s that the presidency was still big. It was Jimmy Carter who turned out to be small.