Okay, who said the following?
“Let me tell you about the greatest victory in the history of the United States. We won World War III without firing a shot. Do you realize that? World War III had been raging for 45 years. We called it the Cold War, and we won it without firing a single shot. Who deserves credit for that? The credit belongs to a man who has been abused by the press. A president who is much greater than history is willing to portray him, because he was not their kind of guy….Ronald Reagan…
“Well, back to the war we won. Back to the winning of World War III, without firing a shot. President Reagan did it, by establishing something that he has been denounced for. Criticized for. Castigated for.
“Star Wars was not established to shoot down incoming Soviet missiles. That was what we said we were going to do with it. That was the purpose that we announced. But that wasn’t the real purpose. We had discovered that the Soviet Union was near economic collapse. We knew that we had a stronger economy; that we could out-spend them, and we knew that they were crazy enough to continue to try to keep up with us, so we started Star Wars for the purpose of crashing the Soviet economy. And we succeeded. The Soviet Union came crashing down.”
Who said that? Bill Buckley? Jesse Helms? Rush Limbaugh? Nah, that was columnist Jack Anderson in a speech at Utah State University in 1999. Yes, the same Anderson who was on the Enemies List famously compiled by Richard Nixon’s staff during his Presidency.
Jack Anderson died Saturday at age 83. He was one of the great columnists this country has ever produced, not noteworthy for his prose but for his “relentless pursuit of the truth,” to borrow Mr. Limbaugh’s phrase. So much so that, much to my consternation, I have to share an observation that I prefer to reserve for cocktail parties with lots of beautiful and famous people listening.
It always amuses me to hear people, especially conservatives, speculating about the transition from the hard-bitten cynical reporters of The Front Page to the young, idealistic journalists who think they can change the world. People attribute it to the Vietnam War, to Watergate, but the truth is that it had already begun a decade or so before that with Drew Pearson and Murrow and Sevareid and some of their buddies. The real influence that created the modern American (and from here, it has spread across the world) crusading journalist was Superman.
Yes, Superman the comic book and television hero. During the day he was mild-mannered Clark Kent, a reporter on the Daily Planet. He was much beset by imperious editor Perry White and he was too shy to profess his love for fellow reporter Lois Lane. But when he was sent out to a story and he discovered that there was a crisis in progress that was unlikely to be amenable to conventional solutions, he would slip off to a private cranny somewhere and change into his Superman costume. Then Superman would magically come swooping out of the sky to save the day.
This comic book and television show was a dominant force in the culture of the 1940s and 1950s. I grew up in the 1960s, when the show was on TV in reruns, and most of my friends watched every episode numerous times. My home had no television, so I felt very left out when my classmates in Hebrew School would have competitions to see who remembered the most lines. More than one literally knew every line by heart. And even I read every single issue of Superman Comics from 1964 through about 1972.
The idea that was reinforced was simple: a reporter could actually insert himself into the story and influence its outcome. All he had to do was reach down deep within himself and find the superhuman spirit that can overcome all obstacles.
This model has created a great deal of mischief, if only because it calls for a presumption that the reporter can anticipate the best policy for every predicament. But Jack did it the right way. He was the ultimate mild-mannered reporter, an unassuming family man, a Mormon and a realist. Yet he believed that if the truth kept coming out, if the back-room machinations were exposed to the light of day, mostly good things would happen.
On his first day as a reporter, he asked Senator Lyndon Johnson when the Senate would adjourn. Lyndon told him: “Homer Capeheart has a pain in his bowel and he thinks it’s an idea. We’ll be awhile.” Before he was done, Jack gave plenty of Washington power brokers pains in their bowels, and he gave us an idea.