Politics & Policy

Special Payload; Making News; Those Politically Correct Democrats


Tom Shales, America’s crankiest and most cynical TV reviewer, one of the best, writes a giant letter to yesterday’s launch — and its coverage — in today’s Washington Post. “Thank you, God.” Shales writes, “We needed that. We needed that moment when we could feel young again, and good again, and strong again, and full of hope and vision.” I concur. We need that stuff in spades and I’m glad if people got it. But was I standing in the wrong line?

I’m fiercely in favor of grand projects that define us as a civilization. I think the space program comes as close to being the cathedrals of our age as any human accomplishment. I am not above patriotic sentiment, yellow ribbons, and ticker tape parades for conquering heroes, towns saving little girls in wells, and confused criticism from “European leaders”; I eat this stuff up.

But am I the only person who couldn’t care less about yesterday’s launch of John Glenn into space? Or at the very least thought the pull-out-the-stops blanket coverage was way over-the-top? The second time is often farce, as the saying goes, and this seems to be no exception.

So what’s the big deal? His title is “Payload Specialist.” It seems to me he is more of a Special Payload. Even considering his age, this trip is a bus ride compared to his truly heroic accomplishment last time. Sure, this launch involves personal bravery and all that stuff. But far less so than what a fireman musters every time he goes into a burning building or a policeman into a dark alley.

Actually, I do know what the big deal is: I just don’t care. The science may be interesting but it certainly isn’t all that practical. Are we planning on sending a lot of old people into space in the near future? Shuffleboard on the moon? There are probably two dozen people who have trained and dreamed all their lives to get a fraction of the glory Glenn got 36 years ago. At least some of them have now lost their shot and Glenn’s gotten two.

If it makes Americans proud of themselves, good. If it highlights our can-do spirit, great. But John Glenn is not a particularly inspiring figure to me. As a senator he was indistinguishable from the pack of weak-tea pols. Anyone remember a single one of his great speeches? It’s not like we’re launching Pat Moynihan, Joe Lieberman, or even John McCain into space. Whether or not he was paid off with this flight for his filibustering and sanctimony during the campaign-finance hearings, he certainly did little to diminish the suspicion. He has been a loyal supporter of NASA and the President in the Senate and, it seems to me, he’s getting rewarded. That’s the sort of asterisk great American heroes should not have next to their name — and he is a hero. Or at least he was.


Today’s Washington Post is playing up the GOP’s Lewinsky ads as if they’re Willie Horton Two (WH One wasn’t that bad either by the way). They quote one Republican insider as saying the reaction has been an “8 on the Richter scale.” They assert that the press has been going nuts over the ads in their coverage. Where? Yeah, okay, the front page of yesterday’s New York Times. But the TV — and believe me, I know, because I have no life — has been all Glenn, all the time. ABC was the only network to lead off with the “Republican-attack” ads. The Times page-one story, written by Ceci Connolly and Howard Kurtz, cites “several” outraged calls to a black-radio station in Baltimore as a sign of some sort of national backlash. That’s their only evidence (I’d hate to see a “10 on the Richter scale”). The rest of this story is about faxing between various campaign committees and snarking quotes from named and unnamed media consultants.

The network coverage of the ads has been negative, but that’s mostly because they want to start a fight between the Dems and Republicans. Good, let’s have a fight. As of now there’s no proof that actual voters are protesting — except for that groundswell in Baltimore.


Orthodox rabbis “are closer to Nazis than they think they are.” — Geoffrey Fieger, Democrat for Governor of Michigan, New York Times, August 8, 1998

Americans should not receive the same wages as “a Chinese coolie or a Mexican wetback.” — Ivan Itkin, Democrat for Governor of Pennsylvania, on WLKK, Erie, Penn. as reported by the Associated Press on October 24, 1998.

Explaining why he was 40 minutes late for a candidate forum, Vinich said he was on “Indian time.” — John Vinich, Democrat for Governor of Wyoming, as reported in the Casper, Wyo. Star-Tribune on October 24, 1998


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