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Cronkite's Old-Fashioned Liberalism

Cronkite's Old-Fashioned Liberalism
by L. Brent Bozell III
November 30, 1995

As America heads into a very incremental conservative direction - containing the growth of government to a few points ahead of the rate of inflation - our media decry an age of shrieking extremes. But in reality, they only see one extreme. Take the following from the nation's most trusted ex-news anchor, Walter Cronkite, as a case study in the other "shrieking extreme."

In a recent discussion on Tim Russert's CNBC talk show, Cronkite suggested extremists - i.e., conservatives - threaten the future of the Republican Party: "I've thought all along that the Republican challenge that they face is to get through a convention that does not turn into a 1964 imbroglio between conservatives and moderates, driving the moderates out of the party as they did in '64, to their own destruction in the next elections. I still think that danger hangs out there for them, it could even be that they now presumably, mostly conservative candidate, for instance Dole, if he wins that nomination, could go to the convention determined not to get so far to the right that he can't be elected and displeasing the extreme right to the point that the convention begins to fall apart on an attempt for an extremely right platform."

Okay, that's the boring (and incorrect) everyday analysis we've become accustomed to from the chattering heads on the network news. But it got interesting when Cronkite proceeded to insult conservatives, and just for fun, everyone living outside the Eastern seaboard, as less than enlightened on race: "We may be a little bit blinded here in the East by our, what the conservatives have always said is our Eastern establishment liberalism. I'm sure that it's true because I've traveled the country that in a lot of the other sections of the country there is not as much willingness to accept a black as I think there is around these areas. But I have a feeling that a Powell, a man of his dignity, of his decorum, of his approach to issues, I think could do it."

Now kissing Powell's ring is a very establishment thing to do, but what would Cronkite do about black America's struggle with poverty and dependency? Cronkite sounds like a 1964 Democrat: "It seems to me that it is so clear what it takes to bring us together is some intelligent investment in the black communities to give them a shot at life with housing, with health care, with education, primarily child care. These things we've got to spend some money on. We're letting them fester there to the degree that we're inciting hatred on their part, and we are permitting among uninformed whites a distaste for them because they think they are no good, uninterested in work and their families and so forth. That's not so, that's not so."

Is this man serious? Is Cronkite seriously suggesting that we haven't been "spending some money" to solve our social problems for thirty years now? That we've been "letting them fester" by not spending more than a few trillion on Great Society programs? And are supporters of welfare reform nothing more than (racist) "uninformed whites"?

Keeping with his finely fermented version of liberalism, Cronkite uncorked on Russert that the fault for black poverty is properly assigned to society, not individuals: "You put anybody in that kind of an economic crunch that those people are in, without any escape, and you're going to get the kind of deterioration in society that is happening. It's our problem, not their - not ours alone, they've got to do a lot themselves - but they can't lift themselves by their own bootstraps. That idea of you know, turn them loose and they'll somehow or other make it work, if they've got anything in them. That's a bunch of rubbish."

Russert then asked: "What message do you think they're hearing out of Washington right now?" Cronkite replied: "I think they're hearing the worst possible message out of Washington right now. I think they're hearing a message of harshness far beyond any rationality that they can see in the figures and the numbers that are coming out of there and the intentions that are coming out of there."

Cronkite is right: what we're hearing out of Washington right now is devoid of rationality. Heck, it's devoid of mathematics. "Drastic reductions in social programs"? Where are these people's calculators? Either Cronkite is ignorant - which he's not - or he's being disingenuous.

At the peak of his career, Walter Cronkite strode the world of television news like a colossus, admired and trusted by millions of Americans. It's too bad that all Cronkite has to offer the public in his retirement is the back of his hand, in contempt.