Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Fifty Years Ago Today

On November 9, 1960, Americans woke up and had to wait until afternoon for Nixon to concede a close presidential election to Kennedy the day before.

Despite recounts and charges of voter fraud, the nation peacefully accepted the results and inaugurated JFK in January. If there had been an Internet and cable TV then, what would the months between have been like?

The question arises as America's two 21st century presidents cope with today's media climate, Obama reacting to a midterm electoral disaster, Bush resurfacing with a memoir to explain his White House tenure.

What strikes someone who lived through both eras is the old saw, "Familiarity breeds contempt." Now that high def shows every pore in a president's face and every flicker of expression, are we better-informed or simply better armed to confirm our prejudices? Do we really glimpse the man behind the public figure or just a more highly detailed fa├žade?

Now that every detail of a presidency is amplified, scrutinized, distorted, bloviated and blogged about, do we know more or just feel more and tear the country apart expressing our own emotions?

In 1960, those who voted for Nixon were disappointed, but there was little public rancor, and after a gray Eisenhower, growing excitement about a handsome young president with a beautiful, pregnant wife.

If Kennedy had not been killed, he might still be remembered for averting a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis but surely judged critically for what he did and didn't do during the rest of his tenure.

But those judgments would have come over time and with context. Now that we have minute-by-minute information about the presidency, are we too swamped with detail to see the larger picture?

We have had Bush Derangement Syndrome, Obama Derangement Syndrome and no doubt the same for whoever comes next.

An informed electorate is a good thing, but citizens stuffed with information like Strasbourg geese, not for their own nutrition but the profit of those who do the stuffing, do not make for the healthiest body politic.

We were spared JFK Derangement Syndrome, but maybe we should have known more about him back then. If he had been spared, he might even have been letting his hair down on Oprah, as George W. Bush is scheduled to do later this week, but somehow I doubt it.

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