When the media and academia overlap in the United States, the result can be—a distorted picture of America. Journalistic icon Bill Moyers shared such a vision when he gave the commencement address at SMU.
Lyndon Johnson’s protégé lauded “Franklin Roosevelt who saved capitalism and democracy.” Since former U. S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has been telling young conservatives the same thing, it would appear that there is bipartisan agreement on the Roosevelt presidency.
Indeed, there may be but it could be the type of agreement the late Sam Francis talked about in his wry description of American democracy. In America we have two parties, Francis explained, the evil party and the stupid party. They occasionally get together and do something that is both evil and stupid and they call it bipartisanship.
On Moyers’ assertion, economists from a number of institutions of higher learning, including that noted right-wing think tank—the University of California at Berkeley—found that FDR’s policies did nothing to end the Depression. As for World War II, allied troops, principally Americans, did defeat Hitler. It is to Roosevelt’s undying credit that he did not try to micromanage their military campaign, a la Moyers’ old boss during the Vietnam War.
Unfortunately, FDR did wrap up the war by giving control of Eastern Europe to brutal Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The Yalta accords that Roosevelt signed on behalf of the U. S. led some of his detractors to label as FDR’s four freedoms—Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia.
For the balance of his speech, Moyers left no shibboleth unsheathed:
• “America’s a great promise but it’s a broken promise.” Only the federales, most of whom share Moyers’ viewpoint, can make or break promises on behalf of the country.
• “It’s not right that we are entering the fifth year of a war started on a suspicion.” UN weapons inspectors spent a full decade prior to the conflict pursuing that suspicion.
• “You are leaving here as our basic constitutional principles are under assault—the rule of law, an independent press, independent courts, the separation of church and state, and the social contract itself.” Wise-guy laymen such as your servant with pocket constitutions have been asking for years where we can find “separation of church and state” in that document.
• “We cannot win a war when our leaders don’t have the will or courage to ask everyone to sacrifice, and place the burden on a few hundred thousand Americans from the working class led by a relative handful of professional officers.” When you actually get to know those men and women, you find that the military does not quite break down the way Moyers thinks it does.
• “Think it over: On one side of this city of Dallas people pay $69 for a margarita and on the other side of town the homeless scrounge for scraps in garbage cans. What would be the civilized response to such a disparity?” Apparently, Moyers is the only one who knows where to find such a high-end happy hour. Why doesn’t he go to one and pass the hat?
• “Think it over: In 1960 the gap in wealth between the top 20 percent of our country and the bottom 20 percent was 30 fold. Now it is 75 fold.” As one who has always been on the low end of that scale, let me add that it is a tragedy that 50 percent of the people are below the median but there is more movement from bottom to top in the U.S.A. than there is anywhere else in the world, which is why not many celebrities make good on their threats to move to France.
• “More Americans live in poverty—37 million, including 12 million children.” These are the numbers used by advocates of nationalized health care. What they don’t tell you is that these census data include people who went the whole year without health insurance and those not covered for a pay period, rather like lumping in the crowd at one Orioles game at Camden Yards with total attendance figures for the season.
• “Our GDP outperforms every country in the world except Luxembourg. But among industrialized nations we are at the bottom in functional literacy and dead last in combating poverty.” Actually, most studies show that the poor in the United States live better than their counterparts anywhere on the planet (See above note on France.)
The illiteracy, sadly, is a fact of life in this country, particularly on the college campuses where Moyers can pick up seasonal employment.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.