On February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite, while anchoring the CBS Evening News, diplomatically and emphatically said “We are mired in a stalemate.” He was talking about Vietnam.
The Vietcong and North Vietnamese had launched a full-fledged attack, known as the Tet offensive, on American and South Vietnamese forces. While the inaccurate casualty numbers may have favored the U.S., Tet was a morale breaker and demonstrated that the U.S. had little or no chance of accomplishing its stated goals in Vietnam.
Cronkite reported from Vietnam on the aftermath of the Tet offensive. On February 27 he wrapped up his broadcast by first stating:
Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we’d like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective.
He ended by saying:
But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
President Lyndon Johnson accurately said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
Presently Barack Obama seems to be losing much of Middle America because of his unsteady piloting of the economy and his own stalemate in Afghanistan. Is there a Walter Cronkite-type figure to provide the credibility that we need to hear that President Obama is not succeeding and that conservative Republicans will do anything to ensure his failure?
We have a president who, however well-intentioned, seems to be negotiation impaired. We have a so-called Tea Party that has so much disdain for government that its members are willing to do serious damage to their own personal finances in order to try to prove a false point about how government is the problem.
The word most associated with Cronkite was venerable. The one current journalist who is currently seen as venerable is Cronkite’s old colleague, Bob Schieffer. He occasionally anchors the “CBS Evening News,” and each Sunday morning he hosts “Face the Nation.”
Schieffer has come close to being straight about both Obama and the Tea Party. However, in an effort to be bi-partisan, he does not point out that while Obama’ tactics may be naïve, the Tea Party’s positions are almost delusional.
If not Schieffer, then perhaps a Jim Lehrer or Judy Woodruff. Whoever might step forward now would have a much greater challenge than Cronkite. Cable TV did not exist when Cronkite spoke and he sat in the anchor chair for one of only three networks. His audience was much larger than that of any current anchor.
All the same, we need a voice of sanity. Last October Jon Stewart was on to something when he sponsored a march on Washington for sanity. Unfortunately his immaturity, which is often the source of his charm and humor, kept him from giving the march the focus it needed. The point had to be clearly made that right wing politics are at the center of what keeps us from pursuing sane policies. Nice try, Jon, but we need someone else with more gravitas.
All of this is easy for me to say and difficult for the few Americans with legitimate credibility to do. I’m just hoping.