By Jeffrey Lord on 2.3.09 @ 6:08AM
Like Walter Cronkite, conservative media stars fight an economic Vietnam.
Rush Limbaugh has taken a week’s vacation.
Twenty million Americans are twitching.
Nervous as well is the rest of the population that comprises almost half the country if not an actual majority. The liberal rest-of-the-crowd is sighing with relief, although considerably tensed at the realization President Limbaugh…sorry, Mr. Limbaugh…will in fact return.
Let not your heart be troubled. With America’s real opposition leader recharging, a transfer of power has gone into effect and Vice President Hannity…ahhh, sorry, that would be Mr. Hannity…has the radio (and TV) reins. America will still be learning the truth.
Somewhere, his golden voice silenced on the evening news at a ridiculously young age of 65, a now 93-year-old Walter Cronkite is surely fuming. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
This all began when President Obama, barely ensconced in the Oval Office, snapped to Republicans on Capitol Hill that “you can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” Really? The example of the legendary CBS television anchor Walter Cronkite says otherwise. Cronkite’s example is an intriguing piece of history that should in fact cause a shiver to run through the Obama White House.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson was under increasing attack from the American left for the war in Vietnam. Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy had taken up an unlikely challenge to the once hugely popular LBJ within the Democrat’s own party. McCarthy, presumed to be an easy loser, had set his sights on upending LBJ in the March 12 New Hampshire primary. On January 31, the North Vietnamese launched what became known as the Tet Offensive, named for the day of the most important Vietnamese holiday, a holiday celebrating the first day of the year on a traditional lunar calendar. The world was stunned to learn over 100 population centers, a majority of the provincial capitals plus the capital of Saigon itself were suddenly under massive assault by the Communists. All of it duly transmitted by television pictures on the evening news, beginning with Walter Cronkite’s broadcast. Even so, the American and South Vietnamese troops responded ferociously, and historians agree that the Tet Offensive was in fact a huge military disaster for the bad guys. But of course that was not conveyed on the television news.
Enter Walter Cronkite. A liberal’s liberal, Cronkite had become the dominating force of television news by 1968. With only three television networks, the avuncular “Uncle Walter” as he was affectionately known to millions, had become one of the most powerful men in America. Television was still a relatively new thing in the late 1960s, the presence of a ubiquitous “anchorman” relaying the news of the day as the nation communed together a bit of a novelty barely a decade old. Cronkite ended his nightly broadcasts by telling Americans reassuringly “and that’s the way it is,” filling in the day’s date as the final tag.
Alas, it wasn’t always the “way it is.” Slowly — very slowly — an increasing number of Americans were beginning to realize that behind the image as “the most trusted man in America” Walter Cronkite was not at all what he seemed. America’s beloved “Uncle Walter,” in reality liberal as all get out, saw the world through his liberal politics and did not hesitate to present the appropriate images and words that confirmed this to anyone who watched him. For Lyndon Johnson, the liberal president who trounced Barry Goldwater a mere four years earlier, this unexpectedly presented a very real problem.
The liberal movement was in the process of splintering, separating big government, national security hawks like FDR-Harry Truman-style Democrats LBJ and his vice president Hubert Humphrey from an emerging far-left culture. This was the moment that baby boomers began to come of age, and the left-most side of this generation was hell-bent on convincing America to get out of Vietnam. In fact, to get out of any military confrontation anywhere, as later opposition to U.S. military actions or support in places as different as Grenada, Nicaragua, Iraq and Afghanistan would illustrate vividly. Cronkite, like many liberals in the media, was personally headed down this philosophical path of defeatism if not outright pacifism. Indeed, in his retirement years his far-left views have become even more pronounced as Cronkite became an outspoken advocate of world government, went on camera in a left-wing documentary attacking Fox News over its alleged lack of journalistic ethics (!!!), and demanded the U.S. get out of Iraq, comparing it to Vietnam.
After returning from a trip to the war zones of South Vietnam as Tet wound down, Cronkite made a remarkable decision. It was no longer his job to simply relay the news of the day, even if presented in the subtle language of liberalism. No, Cronkite decided he would quite openly make it his business to take on LBJ, to effectively use his base as a television anchorman to challenge the sitting President of the United States. He was now firmly opposed to the Vietnam War and he was no longer going to pretend to neutrality. He would use his influence to stop LBJ and the war. The story now would be Uncle Walter versus the President.
On February 27, 1968 Walter Cronkite looked his vast and trusting audience of millions of Americans in the eye and said this:
“To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.…To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.…It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out, then, will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could…”
In other words, Cronkite had decided in fashionable liberal style (as Harry Reid and President Obama so recently did in Iraq) that the war was lost and America should get out. And he was determined to use his powerful anchorman’s presence to make sure this was done.
The effect was almost immediate. In the White House, the President of the United States looked grimly at his television and in a remark that would become famous said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Five weeks later, post-Cronkite’s statement, LBJ was reeling from a stunning and humiliating narrow victory against McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary. On top of that there was now the entrance into the race of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. LBJ went on national television — and withdrew his bid for re-election. He was out, and he was changing his Vietnam policy as well in a search for peace. In his book on the media The Powers That Be, liberal journalist David Halberstam would later say, as Cronkite proudly notes in his own memoirs, “it was the first time in history that an anchorman had declared a war over.”
And so back to today.
Be careful what you wish for, goes the familiar warning. Too late liberals are going to learn this lesson of life yet again. Having gloried in the role Walter Cronkite played in bringing down a president and in changing the course of American history, liberals are suddenly aghast at the realization Rush Limbaugh and his friend Sean Hannity — as powerful today as Cronkite was in 1968 if not more so — could have in slowly but surely impressing on Americans the idea that Obama and his party are setting the country up for an economic Vietnam. A quagmire that threatens to mire generations of Americans in an endless jungle of debt and poverty generaled by bureaucrats, lobbyists and left-wing activists.
One other interesting aspect of all this. In the aftermath of his broadcast against the war, Walter Cronkite was quietly invited to lunch by Senator Robert Kennedy in RFK’s Senate office. Kennedy was on the verge of announcing his own candidacy against LBJ but had yet to do so. Cronkite, of course, pulled aside his mask of objectivity and encouraged him to run. But there was something else on Bobby Kennedy’s mind that day. According to Cronkite himself, writing years later, Kennedy looked the anchorman in the eye and said: “We want you to run for the Senate this year.” “We” meant the Democrats in New York, where Republican Senator Jacob Javits was up for re-election. Demurely, Cronkite declined.
This was, in retrospect, a very significant moment in terms of where we are today. All by himself, sitting in front of his camera in New York, Cronkite had made a serious negative impact on the major foreign policy of a sitting president. More of an impact, certainly, than most U.S. Senators of the day could muster. In other words, in a “race” between the power of a president and that of a television anchor, the TV anchor had at least as much clout. Perhaps more when it came to Vietnam. Certainly Walter Cronkite the anchorman had very much more clout than a potential Senator Walter Cronkite.
This point is even more obvious today. The recent shenanigans involving then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich pondering the appointment of Oprah Winfrey to the vacant Obama Senate seat is but one case in point. Even Blago found himself realizing that for Oprah to go to the Senate would in fact be a step down. In today’s world, certain media figures have at a minimum as much influence as a Senator or Governor — and even the president at any given moment. The other evening Fox’s Greta Van Sustern asked Bill O’Reilly if he was thinking of running for the U.S. Senate in New York in 2010, a question that O’Reilly quite correctly answered by noting that he had a bigger audience than most Senators.
This is true of others in the media as well, with conservative talk radio stars like Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham far outstripping the clout of a great many elected politicians. Which is, of course, why liberals are determined to silence them all with the “Fairness Doctrine” or a laughably deceitful call for more “localism” in radio.
Why does President Obama single out Rush Limbaugh? Why has he attacked Sean Hannity? Because a long time ago Walter Cronkite demonstrated in vivid fashion exactly what is possible when a popular and trusted member of the media successfully opposes a president’s program. It is surely true that even Walter Cronkite could not know exactly what he had unleashed on that long-ago February night 41 years ago.
But unleashed the power of an anchorman now surely is. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, of course. If he had understood at the time the forces he was letting loose on the American political scene, Walter Cronkite would surely have wanted those forces directed by liberals. ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos clearly has taken up the spirit of Cronkite, apparently having been caught quite nakedly plotting daily political strategy with his Clinton pals in the media and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. (Will Stephanopoulos be fired for such an obviously gross crossing of the line between being an “objective” journalist and a wild-eyed political partisan? Nahhhhhhhhhhh. You kidding? The only problem here is he got caught.)
Liberal domination of the media in the modern world didn’t work out quite the way it was supposed to.
Which is why President Barack Obama knows that unlike President Lyndon Johnson, he cannot afford to sit quietly and just ignore the man who is quite effectively his opposite number in the media. LBJ publicly ignored Walter Cronkite even as he understood in his gut exactly what Cronkite’s opposition meant not only for his policies but his own re-election. Failing to take Cronkite on, LBJ lost both his presidency and his Vietnam policy. Obama is clearly not going to be quiet as his policies are picked apart in lacerating detail by the man who is, in effect, the heir to Walter Cronkite.
The President knows that the biggest threat to the success of the Obama-Biden administration — even when they get legislation passed the way they want it — is the opposition by what is effectively the Limbaugh-Hannity administration. So Obama does what he has to do: he attacks.
Americans simply cannot “just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done,” says the new president.
Wanna bet? It worked for Walter Cronkite.
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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