Schram: Seeing Obama clearly on the radio
After watching President Obamaís television interview on CBSí 60 Minutes ó by far his most presidentially impressive event to date ó I began thinking about how differently we perceived our presidents back in the days when radio ruled the waves.
Specifically, I thought about two radio events ó and what they allowed us to ěseeî a bit more clearly ó about our presidents and ourselves.
The first event was the most fascinating fact about Americaís first televised presidential campaign debate, the 1960 meeting of John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon: People who saw it on television told pollsters Kennedy won the debate, but those who heard it on radio were convinced Nixon had won.
The debateís radio listeners, un-diverted by visual distractions (JFKís Hollywood handsome looks; Nixonís five-oíclock stubble and sweating upper lip), focused only on but what was said.
And that thought led me to dial back just a bit more and recall a unique primetime radio drama show called ěMr. President.î Each week, on ABC Radio from 1947-53, the show portrayed a crucial event in a past presidency. But the shows never mentioned the presidentís name ó everyone called him ěMr. Presidentî ó until the showís final line. Then he was referred to by name.
Radio audiences were invited to guess the presidentís name before it was revealed. With no visual guideposts ó no wigs, no beards, no fashions ó to hint at the era, listeners focused solely on spoken words.
Last Sunday night, President Obama was strong, resolute and every bit the commander-in-chief youíd typecast for the part by voice alone. He de-briefed America on the events that got Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
He talked straight with his fellow citizens: ěAt the end of the day, this was still a 55/45 situation. I mean, we could not say definitively that bin Laden was there. Had he not been there, then there would have been significant consequences.î
He said some top advisers opposed sending U.S. troops on the mission: ě…every time I sit down in the Situation Room, every one of my advisors around there knows I expect them to give me their best assessments. And so the fact that there were some who voiced doubts about this approach was invaluable, because it meant the plan was sharper…î
He wasnít about boasting or swaggering, in deciding against releasing graphic photos of the al Qaeda terrorist leaderís corpse: ěYou know, thatís not who we are. You know, we donít trot out this stuff as trophies. …we donít need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk.î
He praised the Navy SEALs, the CIA and the work of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
On the screen, Obama was, by every measure, the gold standard of a commander-in-chief. As I watched, I began wondering not about the millions of proud Americans, but the small percentage among us who have been those loud, vicious Obama haters. Not the opposition leaders who praised Obama. But I wondered what the bigots in our midst, who mocked his race and disputed his religion are really thinking now.
And mainly: What would Obama haters have thought if, before the last election, we could have played a radio-only version of Sundayís 60 Minutes interview ó with the chief executive only referred to as ěMr. President?î What would the haters have thought upon hearing that decisive admirable commander-in-chief?
With their eyes seeing nothing to hate, and their ears hearing lots to love, Obama haters could have come away thinking, deep down: ěThis is my kind of commander-in-chief!î (Until, of course, they actually saw who they were cheering.)
Tomorrow, unrepentant Obama haters will still be surfing our talk radio waves and clogging our blogs with their venomous stuff.
But the rest of us ó in the news media as well as the electorate ó need to keep reminding each other that the politics of hate must have no home in the U.S.A.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.