Democrats & Liberals Archives

Politics on Substance: The Value of Doing Your Homework

A great reporter has passed away. There’s a lot that can be learned from Tim Russert’s example, from his ability to keep folks accountable, regardless of their political affiliation. Nobody in politics is perfect, and all can go astray. We need folks who confront, along with those who can answer that confrontation with confidence, honesty, and substance to stand upon.

Image has become way overrated in our culture. Folks have wrapped us up in theories of how to spin and twist the truth, how to prop up a faltering reputation. In truth, nothing comes of it. There is no use to the general public for politics perpetually on the defensive, perpetually on the campaign.

Democracy works because democracy puts policy and politics together in an unavoidable feedback loop. The Framers made a point, though, of freeing the press and freeing our own speech to enable people to participate in that feedback. As I listen to the coverage about him, one of the virtues given out about him was his preparation.

Let's face it, I think we've all had at least one occasion where Russert asked a difficult question that threw one of our favorite candidates or surrogates off. As much as we dislike when such things happen, it is good for such things to happen, and a warning to those who would go off into the political world ill-informed, ill-intentioned, inconsistent in our approach. Much as we hate the pressure this puts us under, it's what keeps us honest.

God knows we need our politicians kept honest. God knows we, the supporters, need to be kept honest. That's the price of Democracy: Responsibility cannot merely be an attribute of the elite, the top. Competence, wisdom, education, and other virtues of that kind cannot remain concentrated among those who currently hold the most power. Nor can we allow it to be absent.

Too often, politics has played to pure psychology, to questions of perception. But for politics to be useful, it must engage reality on policy, and with policy comes the importance of facts, of consequences, of facing realities and working past illusions. We can pretend that things aren't going wrong, try to decieve others and ourselves into believing those things. But realities will remain realities, and they will work much more efficiently and extensively to determine the course of events than our paltry attempts to paint things in one way or another. We literally don't have the imagination to control our world perfectly with our lies and half-truths, much less live with it well in our ignorance.

Honesty is not only the best policy, it's the most efficient. It is such a hellish ordeal to try and lie your way out of trouble. Lying your way out of a catastrophe is certainly no better. If we can learn both how to deal with the policy necessities of our time and eloquently, smartly communicate our intentions and our agenda, not disrespectfully trying to sneak agendas past those whose verdict on it we should honestly seek, then we can learn how to govern ourselves better. Too many think in the future tense and speak in the subjunctive voice without knowledge or curiosity about about the world around them. They think of themselves as world changers, look down on those who operate in the "Reality-Based Community".

Russert's approach forced people to answer questions, then let them answer it. He put people to the test, and that is critical. The world is filled with ideas, conceptions, and claims that people hold to be true, and although everybody believes the truth of their own, there is a real question, especially in a democracy like ours, as to why the rest of us should believe such things. There's also, parallel to that, the crucial question of how we settle our differences. I do not believe that these questions are separate. I believe that our greatest happiness, prosperity, and sustainability of the greater good depends on our nation and communities not depending upon dishonesties hung upon in desperation.

We stand here with the dollar low, inflation high, and gas prices higher because some could not face that their approach wasn't going to balance the budget. Our debt, growing greater over time, is compounded by a resistance to that recognition.

We stand here with two wars going, and neither serving their original goals, with people not facing the fact that despite all their good intentions, all their high ideals and callings, despite recent, local successes. that the patience of so many people here and there has worn thin, and that many of the advances have been by people trying to get us off their back.

We stand here with people still surprised and no longer shocked when they hear about the next constitutional atrocity, with the folks who are supposed to uphold the constitution reinterpreting it to their convenience. They were supposed to save us all from the terrorists, but so many now ask, who's going to save us from them?

Government that cannot be humbled, cannot be forced to explain itself or justify itself, government that can grab power without paying for it by accountability and consent is not democratic, and not what we need. Even with the best of intentions, the best and the brightests, the highest achievers can lose their way, and they cannot be allowed to coast along in a bubble of their own.

We need those who will challenge those in power, extract the answers we need from them, and remember what they've forgotten, or what they would like others to forget. We cannot replace Tim Russert, but we can certainly follow his example. Be informed. Confront your leaders. Demand the truth.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at June 13, 2008 5:57 PM
Comment #255489

I was very sad to hear of Tim Russert’s death. I do not wish an early demise on anyone. However, I did not find him to be unbaised or a particularily good interviewer.

IMO Tim Russert was a closet conservative.

It appeared to me that he usually had his mind made up before starting an interview and did not listen to responses. He had a set response he wanted to get and would continue hammering away even after the interviewee had answered the question over and over.

Or I guess it could be I just don’t like Tim Russert’s style.

Posted by: Carolina at June 13, 2008 7:51 PM
Comment #255490

ITA, Carolina, the first time I noticed Russert say Democrat party instead of Democratic party, I knew where he stood. I feel sorry for his father who survived him. Personally, I need to lose 20 pounds right now. I had 2 brothers who died similarly, one at age 50 (280 lbs) and the other just before his 60th birthday (260 lbs), but the first people my age to go were the rock and rollers, like the Ramones and Warren Zevon, mostly all thin.

Posted by: ohrealy at June 13, 2008 8:22 PM
Comment #255493

He was more middle of the road, but the fact that folks are having to infer rather than recall his political affiliations points to something. Even if he had conservative sensibilities behind his persona, he didn’t inject that into his broadcast.

Contrast that with Olbermann, with O’Reilly, with Hannity, with Rachel Maddow. These people are invested in their political personas, which means they base their following on that. It’s certainly harder for folks like them to own up to defects in those people and things that they advocate for, which is why I advocate for the press and the news casters to actively seek after fact, rather than base things on personal opinion.

My favorite to succeed him on Meet the Press is Chuck Todd. That’s what I would like out of a reporter. It wasn’t some talk with him about campaign trickery, it was the facts, the math, the underlying realities. Being a Democrat or a Republican is not about living in a parallel universe of our personal beliefs, it’s about having different ways of approaching the same reality born of different experience. Sooner or later, reckonings come for those who choose to try and dictate terms to reality instead of adapting to that reality instead.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 13, 2008 8:58 PM
Comment #255496

He was an aid to Patrick Moynihan and Mario Cuomo. I’m not sure that would qualify him as conservative, but everybody has an opinion.

Meet the Press and Firing Line were two staples of my Sundays. I suppose Meet the Press will continue. Since he recorded his MSNBC program, I guess they’ll run it. That’ll be weird. I called my sister. She has no idea who he was.

I cried a bit. I cried when Buckley died. I learned a lot from their programs. They seemed like friends.

Posted by: googlumpugus at June 13, 2008 10:43 PM
Comment #255500

He came from a blue collar democratic family in Buffalo New York, just like Brian Williams came from a little Town in upstate NY. I’ll Miss Mr Russert.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at June 13, 2008 11:13 PM
Comment #255505

When he was on the air, I felt that I was getting the truth. I did not always like the truth, but I listened because he never treated the audience like we were wrong in an evil and misguided way.

I too will miss Russert. And for all the right reasons.

Posted by: Edge at June 14, 2008 12:02 AM
Comment #255529

I join the list of those who will miss Tim Russert.
Perhaps all didn’t agree with his opinions or conclusions, but it was difficult to ever feel he was making other’s opinions invalid.
He was passionate about everything he spoke of…

Posted by: janedoe at June 14, 2008 10:43 AM
Comment #255575

I liked Russert because he was fair and did his homework, even though it was obvious from his background that he leaned Democratic, he kept his biases to himself. Maybe that is why some of you think he was a secret conservative. Russert was fair and complete. You might be mistaking that for conservative.

I will miss him on Sunday mornings and during the campaign. He was one of the few journalists you could believe.

Posted by: Jack at June 14, 2008 3:54 PM
Comment #255709

Sad Unbelievable, are we back in the Era of Malaise Again.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at June 16, 2008 1:11 AM
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