Let's set Peabody's Wayback Machine for this week, back in 1965. Everybody strapped in and comfy? OK . . . Forward into the past. . . .
Welcome to 1965. Looking around, you will note that this week:
- Better Davis, Danny Kaye and Yves St. Laurent were the Mystery Guests on "What's My Line."
- Dr. Franklin Edward Kameny led a protest march at the White House demanding equal rights for homosexuals [the term used back then].
- Bishops of the second Vatican Council ratified the Papal encyclical Nostra Aetate, which sought to teach about the relation of the Catholic Church to people who belong to other religious traditions -- most notably Jews.
- The 630-foot Gateway Arch was completed in St. Louis.
- Leo Durocher was named manager of the Chicago Cubs.
- John, Paul, George and Ringer recorded their classic "Nowhere Man" at the Abbey Road Studio.
This last item is of special interest. In retrospect, it would seem that the four lads from Liverpool were recording a piece not about John Lennon [the eponymous "Nowhere Man"], but rather about the vast majority of today's elected officials -- those who are "blind as [they] can be, just see what [they] want to see . . ." I mean, how many times have you heard the president, a governor, senator or representative make comments that make you want to ask "Are you kidding? What planet are you living on?" Maddening, isn't it?
Truth to tell, there are a couple of obvious reasons why so many of our elected officials are so far out of touch with the lives, aspirations and concerns of the average citizen. First and foremost, the higher the office, the more intense the cocoon. Once elected, the emoluments and perquisites of office -- the doting staffs, the elevators and subways that come at one's beck-and-call, the mother hen press secretaries, the go-to-the-head-of-the-line-no-waiting-necessary at airports and restaurants -- tend to transport most office holders out into Never Never Land. In a surrealistic plane where even a hiccup has gravitas, is it any wonder that so many believe [to paraphrase John Lennon] that the world is at their command?
President George W. Bush is a prime example of a political Nowhere Man. Whenever he leaves the White House, he is surrounded by a flying wedge of Secret Service Officers who whisk him into the Presidential limousine. Then, the five-to-ten car motorcade barrels its way through every red light in whatever town he happens to be, whisks him off to Airforce One, which then jets him to a press event, luncheon or dinner where he is surrounded only by those who think he walks on water. And if there are any protesters in the vicinity, they are consigned to an area as far out of visual range as is humanly possible -- preferably in another time zone.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it's all not that difficult to get "The Old Man" to just see what he wants to see. Back in 1969, I worked in a gubernatorial race out in California. Our candidate, the Speaker of the California State Assembly, had a campaign budget of just under $1 million. Our opponent, incumbent governor Ronald Reagan, had more money than Rockefeller. Well, one day, with less than two weeks remaining, our candidate informs us that he wants to see his campaign posters plastered on every light pole, every bus bench, every available front lawn in the entire L.A. Basin -- an enormous geographic region. None of us had the guts or heart to tell him that we simply did not have the time or funds to fulfill his order. What to do? We surely didn't want to let him down; our jobs depended on doing what he asked.
We pondered the matter for about an hour, then one fellow came up an idea. Calling the Speaker's driver, we obtained the precise route that the Old Man traveled every day from his home to campaign headquarters. Armed with this information, we proceeded to put his posters on every light pole, every bus bench and every available front lawn between Englewood and Wilshire Blvd. All this took less than two days to complete. On the third day, the Old Man entered campaign headquarters beaming from head to toe. "God bless you all," he roared, "you really came through. Now all Los Angeles has my posters!" What we had done, in essence, was make it possible for him to see just what he wanted to see.
You may recall that some years back during a presidential debate, a reporter asked the two candidates, "What's the average price of a quart of milk these days?" Neither candidate had the slightest idea. You had better believe that the next day, both candidates were armed with the price of milk in every major city in the United States, just in case the question ever made a comeback. It never did. The question, so basic in form, was totally brilliant in content, and pointed out in stark detail just how out of touch these Nowhere Men actually were . . . and to a very great extent, still are.
For the more than thirty years he served in elected office, former Florida Senator [and Governor] Bob Graham reserved one day a month for what he called "work-days." On these days, the senator would work sweeping up a barbershop, bagging at a grocery store, pumping gas at a service station -- you name it. And while he did manage to get a bit of positive press coverage for these activities, it served the higher, more honest purpose of keeping him in touch with the average citizen.
Frequently, we forget that these men and women work for us, and not the other way around. Unless and until we demand that they get off their high perches and walk among the masses, they will continue to be "Nowhere Men," people who believe that the world is at their command.
Nowhere Men and Women, please listen . . .
FYI: This is the 100th article to appear on this Blog since its inception. I want to thank you, the readers, who have been unstinting in your loyalty and honest with your comments. I couldn 't do it without you. Let's look forward to the next hundred articles and pray that by the time we reach number 200, our title -- "Beating the Bushes" -- will be nothing more than a dusty anachronism . . .