Monday, November 5, 2012
© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
We’re not fans of CBS’ 60 Minutes, because we’re not fans of folks who let their values dictate their thought processes. In our view, one’s analysis of issues ought to be a thing apart from one’s values. For us, the presentation of news ought to be as value free as humanly possible. The 60 Minutes folks rarely ask the logical, follow-up question in the pursuit of balance.
But last night was different. First Senators Harry Reid (Democrat) and Mitch McConnell (Republican) sat side by side while being interviewed. They provided their views as to the source of gridlock in Congress. Nothing new came out of the discussion; however, we gained some perspective through the second guest.
David McCullough is an award-winning American historian who has written numerous books, including those on Presidents Adams (John), Lincoln, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Truman. He was initially interviewed in his 8’ x 10’ office in the back of his Cape Cod home, where we saw him hunting and pecking on a turn–of-the-last century manual typewriter. When asked why he preferred the relic over a computer, he quipped, “I don’t like to hit a button and see a month’s work disappear.”
Per McCullough, despite complaints today there is nothing new about extreme partisanship and personal attacks. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, national candidates branded each other thieves and common criminals. One even accused his opponent of being a hermaphrodite. (Fortunately, we did not have cameras, or we suspect that the foundational photo would have gone viral.)
The Good Historian also reminded us that there is nothing new about a country feeling it is in a state of decline. While he was a kid, McCullough’s Father always voted Republican. Following the election of Truman in 1948, his Father was absolutely certain the U.S. would become a third-rate power.
Years later, the Elder McCullough would quietly say, “I sure wish we had old Harry back….”
Upon leaving Cape Cod, instead of moving the camera to Washington, the interview transitioned to Independence Hall and other historic locations in Philadelphia. The men who sat in the room, where the new governance model was invented, feared for their lives since they realized that their discussions were treasonous. According to McCullough, they even closed the windows of the building during the heat of the summer of 1787, out of concern that there might be eavesdroppers.
In thinking about it further, perhaps we’re giving the 60 Minutes folks too much credit for this broadcast. It was really McCullough who brought clarity and a sense of historical perspective regarding this very toxic environment.
And maybe we’re overly complimentary of McCullough’s comments, since he managed to succinctly state in a phrase something which we have felt but have had difficulty articulating in 4-1/2 years of blogging.
Paraphrasing McCullough, what is most troubling about politics now, particularly with the tons of money being spent, is that there is, “a dearth of ideas.”
At an earlier point in our existence, when the Institute was located in one region of the U.S., we’d assemble people with varying points of view and from different disciplines, and after working together, folks would say, “Let’s give it a try.”
In another, we’d go through the same process, and people would find every imaginable objection and complication leading to a state where nothing was done.
The toxicity in the air can be significantly traced to our national attitude. It’s not as though it is totally unreasonable. There are a couple of factors contributing to this zeitgeist.
1) Uncertainty - we’re no longer secure in our role as top dog. Osama bin Laden did a lot to foster that mood - he bit us in the ass and globalization has further contributed to it; and
2) We’ve lost our edge educationally and technologically (and we know it). We rode the coat-tails of our prior triumphs for far too long. Today, too many kids (through the power of the Internet and electronic media) want to be entertainers and athletes, and play in reality TV shows, not scientists, engineers, and inventors.There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with the former; but everything in the Universe is about proportion and timing, and technology drives everything.
Right now, the Randle Patrick McMurphys of the world are running the institution. We need Nurse Ratched back, to shock us to our senses, with the assistance of the college students of today.
We’re not generally ones to pine for practices of the past, opting instead to come up with new approaches. But this might be, like our praise of 60 Minutes, one time where we make an exception, and revert back to some of our past practices infused with youthful ideas.
(You can view Part 2 of McCullough’s interview next Sunday, November 11, 2012.)
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