Notes of a Reporter at Large • 09-22-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 22 September 2011 13:29

Waiting for Superman

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

When I was a kid, one of the nicest things you could say about someone was that he (it was always a “he” in those days) was smart enough to be  president. In school we were told that in America anyone could aspire to the presidency. If he worked hard, lived by the rules and wanted it badly enough — with luck — it just could happen. But after World War II, I heard professors argue that the presidency was no longer a job for the ordinary citizen. The world was too dangerous and  complicated. Only a superman could save us. Could be, but he has yet to land on the planet and reveal himself.. And so, like it or not, we are still stuck with ordinary mortals.

* * *

One day in the presidential election year of 1980, I remember watching Ronald Reagan on a TV monitor in the CBS newsroom. He was riding a handsome horse at an ambling gait along a trail at his ranch in Santa Barbara.  My boss, a worldly-wise journalist, was also drawn to the picture. “Why,” he wondered, would a fellow give up all  that peace and beauty for the White House and all the grief and stress that go with it?”

At the time I couldn’t take him seriously. Why for fame and immortality, I said, or something close to that.

My boss, who was then a man approaching seventy, scoffed.

Now that I am old myself his scoffing rings truer.

* * *

Somewhere I read of a president complaining that for all the majesty of the office, he can issue a command but it’s no guarantee it will be obeyed. Sometimes the order is poorly executed, or screwed up. Sometimes nothing happens.

* * *

President Obama’s scrappy new stand  to bring the country’s rising debt under control and vowing no Medicare cuts without tax increases for the  rich and powerful corporations is heartening news for the liberal/progressive wing of his party. “This time,” rejoiced the New York Times, the president “did not compromise with himself beforehand, or put out a half measure in hopes of luring nonexistent Republican support.” Still the Times complained about a lack of specifics “and his aides’ inexplicable continued faith in the idea of Congress working out a sensible middle ground on taxes.”

David Brooks, the rightward commentator on the Times and on PBS, characterized the Obama move on Monday as showmanship, a preview of his re-election campaign.

He asserts “that this package (from the president) has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill.”

And so it may be. On the other hand, it is hard to take critics like Brooks seriously as long as Republicans are unwilling to compromise with Obama, unless it’s on their own terms.

The headline is that at last Obama is on the offensive. And a lot of Democrats, with fingers crossed, are saying they hope it’s true.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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