Keeling: Missing TV news, the GOP of old and real statesmen

Herald-leader columnistNovember 18, 2012 

FRANKFORT —By all rights, a first post-election column should say something insightful, if not outright brilliant, about the results. But we're nearly two weeks out from that angst-filled day and night, and all my fellow know-it-alls of punditry have carved the corpses up nicely by now.

So, I'll leave my scalpel in the drawer instead of using it to dissect what U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler did wrong, why "minority" remains the operative word when referring to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's leadership position and how Kentucky and the nation are headed in opposite political directions (typical for a state that joined the Confederacy after it lost the Civil War).

Instead, today's topic is harmonic convergence.

Not the harmonic convergence the latest misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar suggests would occur before the Earth spins wildly off its axis Dec. 21 of this year, hurling all of us into space singing Fly Me to the Moon with the fervent hope that, when we plop down there, we will find a land of milk, honey, breathable air, drinkable water (along with other libations) and nary a politician (much less a political TV ad) in sight.

Forgive a digression, but I must note for the record the only people hurled into space following previous misinterpretations of the Mayan calendar were wearing spacesuits and traveling in spacecraft. I would also advise you to look at the up side if doomsday purveyors finally hit the mark. No need to put up a Christmas tree. No need to risk life and limb hanging lights on the house. No need to max out the credit card for presents you may have to return later anyway.

Back on subject, the harmonic convergence I refer to is a bit of a personal one I experienced several months ago. (Lest some of you political junkies stop reading because of my use of the word "personal," I assure you politics will play a big role in my tale. I am who I am.)

My harmonic convergence began when I recorded and later watched a KET-Kentucky re-airing of Gentleman from Kentucky: John Sherman Cooper, a 1989 profile of the late U.S. senator and diplomat who was and will always remain one of my most admired heroes. Cooper personified the Republican Party I knew in my youth, the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower that championed civil rights and knew "conservative" and "conservation' share the same root word.

Cooper was among the first to stand up to Joe McCarthy's Red-baiting. He was a leader in pushing for progressive civil rights legislation. He was an early opponent of the war in Vietnam. And as William Greider of Rolling Stone said in the profile, Cooper "believed the government had a moral duty to help people in need." In short, he was the antithesis of the jingoistic, monochromatic, serve the rich and to heck with everyone else attitudes prevailing in the national Republican Party today.

About the same time I saw the Cooper profile, I was reading The Race, a 2007 novel by Richard North Patterson about a Republican presidential primary contested by two U.S. senators. One was a moderate in the Cooper mold. The other was a "mainstream" Republican, strictly in the modern reactionary sense of the term, who followed Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy," played the race and religion cards at every opportunity and embraced a campaign style only the Karl Roves of the world could love.

The third element in my harmonic convergence came from Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, a sometimes preachy and pretentious but often fun HBO series about a moderate Republican cable news anchor who, at the prodding of his boss and new executive producer, decides to ditch the modern, lightweight formula for such shows and start practicing serious broadcast journalism again. The opening credits of the show pay homage to the likes of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, some guys who wrote the book on serious broadcast journalism back in the day John Sherman Cooper was practicing some serious statesmanship.

My point? Simple. This harmonic convergence reminded me how much I miss the Republican Party I grew up in, the party personified by Cooper, and how much I miss the broadcast journalism standards of Murrow, Cronkite, Huntley, Brinkley and their contemporaries. In an election year that once again raised the bar on nasty campaigning (by both parties) and 24/7 hype and spin from cable news networks, I missed them a lot. Some things were just better way back when, back before the Karl Roves of the world took over the Republican Party and before talk radio and Fox News became the new opiate of the American masses.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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