Friday, July 23, 2010

Things NOT to Do if You're Cynical About Government

Because I'm an incredibly geeky individual, I'm reading yet another book about Watergate. Well, it's not necessarily about Watergate, but centers on how the media handled the Watergate scandal and yet did not handle other scandals precipitated by Democratic presidents (Kennedy and Johnson) during the same time period. It's Victor Lasky's "It Didn't Start With Watergate." Fascinating, illuminating, cynicism-building stuff.

Lasky is rightly critical of national media outlets that gave the likes of Kennedy, Johnson, and later Carter a pass on some of the more lackluster shenanigans during their tenures (Kennedy's assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and the US-supported coups against leaders in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, as examples) while putting Richard Nixon under the microscope for Watergate. He doesn't excuse Nixon for what happened -- in fact, he seriously shakes his head at what was done in the Nixon White House -- but does look jaw agape at how the scandals of a Republican president were brought out into the daylight while the media was complicit, or simply didn't bother to dig out -- the improprieties of Democratic presidents.

He even deflowers one of my political heroes, Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. I had always held him in pretty high regard, until I found out that he tried to suppress the results of his own committee's investigations into presidential meddlings in coups and assassinations of heads of state because it would have besmirched his idol Kennedy -- and after the cat was out of the bag, still tried to point fingers more at Nixon and Eisenhower than at the Democrats who were in power during the same time period. That seems like shoddy statesmanship to me.

This book isn't a complete indictment of the entire media-presidential complex, because Lasky does give kudos to journalists of both conservative and liberal stripes who did their jobs as journalists rather than to protect presidents with whom they were chummy. But it is an indictment against the establishment press that does not dig into allegations simply because they approve of the president against whom the allegations are levied, and then dig into the allegations against presidents whom they despise. This would be a good lesson for journalists today -- and a good sign that the lessons that could have been learned back then have not been learned at all.

You know, that's why I find that portion of American history so fascinating. So many lessons to be learned for politicians, journalists, voters and everyone else, but few of those lessons have been learned. We're still voting for style over substance, still assuming that if we like a guy he can do no wrong. And where we should have a healthy distrust for politicians and journalists and pundits and such, we instead have a cynicism -- which tells us that now we assume everyone is a liar and an asshole and going to steal the kids' lollipops after they kiss them. The kids, not the lollipops. That's counterproductive. Because to excuse someone for doing something simply because their predecessors have done it, that's wrong. And that's what I see going on with the current occupant of the White House. He's making the same mistakes as his much-hated predecessor, and yet he's being given a ride for it, because all he did was "inherit" the problems. That's horse caca. I voted him in so he could change things. Now we're getting a politician who won't do what he says he's going to do. So I'm looking to the next person. Maybe one of these days I"ll get something right.

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