Thursday, February 21

In Fairness, In Those Days You Only Had One Thing To Fear.

ON one of the occasions over the past two weeks when I could watch television I happened upon the last half of Bill Moyers' interview with Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason. From Laura Miller's Salon review:
To top it all off, when [Jacoby] was invited back to her alma mater, Michigan State University, to receive an honorary award, she struck up a conversation with an honors student in the College of Communications Arts, only to find that the young woman had never even heard of Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats.

Overview of the College of Communications Arts & Sciences, from the MSU site:
The departments of Advertising, Public Relations, and Retailing, Communication, Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media and the School of Journalism offer programs leading to the Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Students work with their advisors to establish an individual program of study designed to prepare the students to meet their desired career goals.

So, out of those five (it's five; turns out they have a little problem with punctuation at the CCAS) how many would dictate a student be familiar with the Fireside Chats? As many as two? Are people who have "heard of" the Fireside Chats more knowledgeable than those who haven't? How many of them could do more than identify FDR as their source? (I've heard a couple--and read a couple more along the way--mostly because I went to a high school with its own radio station, and so I heard The Hindenburg Disaster and The Miracle of Coogan's Bluff and The Inner Sanctum and The Results of Fibber McGee Opening That Closet, but by the time I got to college and took the introductory Radio & Television course I found it was two weeks of history and four months of Business, and FDR turned up as the guy who signed the Communications Act of 1934 and was mean to bankers.) The final Fireside Chat took place more than forty years before that young woman was born. It's like asking me to discourse on the Elkins Act.

I have a lot of sympathy with this sort of thing in the general: we're an anti-intellectual society. So what else is new? It's not really demonstrated by the number of people who can't find Syria on a map, or who'd rather socialize by text message than have a decent discussion about the merits of laissez-faire capitalism.   It's more likely demonstrated by our anti-intellectualism.  

Why do studies show our young people are so appallingly ignorant of world geography? Because you can't get older people to take the test.

Hell, Jacoby has visited college campuses? I've read through comments at the Indianapolis Racist Star, where you cannot for the life of you figure out how these people manage to decide which face of the keyboard is supposed to point up. People who try and fail to locate the Middle East on a map are still demonstrating a capacity for abstract thought many Americans will never master, or even glimpse, and most of them have an internet connection. I bow to no one in this arena, Susan. And I will defend at whatever cost the idea that we might as well give the fuck up and just enjoy the ride.

But then I saw her with Bill Moyers, and I liked her despite the book, and her point about the Fireside Chats, that modern Presidents have no talent for, nor make any effort towards, educating the public was perfectly illustrated by the example of (Bill) Clinton Healthcare, which was simply dumped on the public as a 900-page fait accompli, and so was easy pickin's for the insurance industry.

And the bright boys of Left Blogtopia want to talk about...superdelegates, and brokered conventions, and racist attacks. How did we get here again, exactly? 2008 finds you running against the most catastrophically awful administration in our history,  and its toadying surrogates, all members of a party which has proven itself crookeder 'n deregulated car dealer with scoliosis. And your bright boys are arguing about campaign staffs. There's an issue that'll galvanize the electorate.

Look. Ronald Reagan sought his party's nomination for sixteen years. He had buggyloads of Bircher money behind him, and he managed to defeat titans such as George H.W. Bush and Harold Stassen for the Republican nomination, then defeated a sitting President so unpopular Stassen would have had a chance against him. If you want to marvel at someone using the power of communication, try Ross Perot, who did precisely that educational, or "educational" thing, and who managed to convince 18% of the voting populace to support him despite being a funny-looking crank. To me that's a helluva bigger accomplishment than Reagan sweeping the board against an out-of-favor party he'd pinned ten years of bad economy on, while riding the crest of Nixon's Southern Strategy.

Last week brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson--an Obama supporter--wrote about the experience of going to familiar Democratic haunts and confronting unfriendly sentiments; I would suggest that what's more disturbing than cranky comments is going where one expects intelligent commentary and finding horserace touts thicker'n Irish bacon. It would make sense if Democrats were choosing between a liberal and a centrist, but they aren't. Can't say I understand why people who as recently as a year ago were insisting the Bush administration was about to invade Iran would now rather beat each other over the head. Maybe somebody needs to explain it to me.


D. Sidhe said...

If someone does, could you maybe get them to explain it to me too? The other side has managed to tee up a perfect loser of an election, complete with a candidate even they hate, and we're too busy trying to decide between a couple candidates with nearly identical positions to point out to the electorate that *either* of these two is a chance to finally vote for someone rather than against someone.

It's not that I think the republicans can win this one, it's that I think the democrats can lose it.

heydave said...

It seems to me that the love of power and elected office trumps what you call "common sense."


Morgan P. said...

Hmm, I don't know about this one. I'm under 30 and I know what the Fireside Chats were, who gave them, and why. I couldn't write much more than a paragraph about the subject, but since it appeared in at least two of my high school textbooks, I don't think that it's totally ridiculous to expect that someone at least be able to recognize the phrase "Fireside Chat".

Then again, I had never heard of the People's Park incident before I started reading your blog. Maybe that seems incredible to someone else.

Anyway, as always, love your writing and wanted to throw in my two cents.

coldH2O said...

OMG, I need this. Esp. the fact that I am one of those who won't take the test. Actually, I've never been asked to take the test. Lately, everyone is more interested in my blood chemistry &/or position on the Dubuque Management System.

Anonymous said...

It's no answer to the eternal question you pose in that last para, but it does seem that people belonging to different factions of the same group are often more likely to whack each other over the head, with screaming and vituperation, than those from entirely different groups.

Maybe it's the intimacy, like the police stats that show most homicides being committed by, and upon, family members?

Not be generationist, but a thread about the crumminess of Boomers over on Sadly the other day made me wonder if some of the acidic nature of the internecine lefty commentary these days mightn't be the direct result of the ironic ragging and snarking habits of GenX and Yers. You know, like what used to be on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The kids can't help it.

Li'l Innocent