Saturday, November 17, 2012

Eric Severehead from Philip Roth's "Our Gang"

When it comes to putting folks out to pasture (see previous blog on John McCain), let's not forget Bob Schieffer. If you watched the third presidential debate you know how ineffectual he was. His analysis on various news shows was also pompous and superficial. On one he described Obama's campaign as a purely "tactical" one, as if running on universal health care and shifting the tax burden to the rich from the middle class were some sort of minor "gimmicks". Given his past history, I can't believe that Schieffer himself believed this nonsense.

Some journalists get more perceptive and cogent as they grow older. Others become more pompous. As another example of the latter, Schieffer is following in the footsteps of his generational predecessor Eric Sevareid, a protege of Edward R. Murrow. Sevareid, in his youth, was one of the best buckers of TV network conservatism, but in his later years became verbose and fuzzy. He couldn't seem to see the Vietnam war through clear eyes until the Nixon era.

As a public service,  I dug up two hilarious satirical "quotes" of the older Eric Sevareid (renamed "Erect Severehead"); they are from Philip Roth's "Our Gang", an outrageous spoof of the Nixon years.

“—and so in they continue to come [Do I detect a whiff of pre-Yoda here?]. And now they have told us why. They come not as they came to Washington to mourn the death of President Charisma. Nor do they come as came they did to Atlanta, to follow behind the bier of the slain Martin Luther King. Nor come do they as to the railroad tracks they did, to wave farewell as the tragic train that bore the body of the murdered Robert Charisma carried to its final resting place, him. No, the crowd that cometh to Washington tonighteth, cometh not in innocence and bewilderment, like little children berefteth of a father. Rather, cometh they in guilt, cometh they to confesseth, cometh they to say, ‘I too am guilty,’ to the police and the FBI. It is a sight, moving and profound, and furnishes evidence surely, if evidence there need surely be, of a nation that has cometh of age. For what is maturity, in men or in nations, but the willingness to bear the burden — and the dignity — of responsibility? And surely responsible it is, mature it is, when in its darkest hour, a nation can look deep within its troubled and anguished blah blah blah blah blah blah blah the guilt of all. Of course, those there are who will seek a scapegoat, as those there will always be, human nature being what it is instead of what it should be. Those there are who will self-righteously stand up and shout, ‘Not me, not me.’ For they are not guilty, they are never guilty. It is always the other guy who is guilty: Bundy and Kissinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Calley and Capone, Manson and McNamara — yes, the list is endless of those whom they would make responsible for their own crimes. And that is what makes this demonstration here in Washington of collective guilt so blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. The blah blah of the spirit and the blah blah blah blah blah blah for which our sons have died blah blah blah blah blah blah reason and dignity blah blah blah blah blah dignity and reason. No, blame not those who gather here in Washington to confess to the murder of the President. Ratber, praise them for their courage, their blah blah blah, their blah and their blah blah blah, for blah blah blah blah as are you and I. We are all guilty. And only at the risk of blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah forget. This is Erect Severehead from the nation’s blah.”

“Good evening. This is Erect Severehead with a cogent news analysis from the nation’s capital… A hushed hush pervades the corridors of power. Great men whisper whispers while a stunned capital awaits. Even the cherry blossoms along the Potomac seem to sense the magnitude. And magnitude there is. Yet magnitude there has been before, and the nation has survived. A mood of cautious optimism surged forward just at dusk. Then set the age-old sun behind these edifices of reason, and gloom once more descended. Yet gloom there has been, and in the end the nation has survived. For the principles are everlasting, though the men be mortal. And it is that very mortality that the men in the corridors of power demonstrate. For no one dares to play politics with the momentousness of a tragedy of such scope, or the scope of a tragedy of such momentousness. If tragedy it be. Yet tragedies there have been, and the nation founded upon hope and trust in man and the deity, has continued to survive. Still, in this worried capital tonight, men watch and men wait. So too do women and children in this worried capital tonight watch and wait. This is Erect Severehead From Washington, D.C.”

Oh, and here's an actual quote from Sevareid himself, from 1972. By this time the full terror of our war on Vietnam was pretty obvious to nearly everyone. Sevareid goes on:

If we have reached the dreadful point where the honor of the state and the conscience of the people collide, then what does honor mean, anymore? We are asked to believe it is dishonorable to depart and risk the safety of Vietnamese political and military leaders, but honorable to go on contributing to the certain death and misery of the wholly innocent. We are asked to believe that better relations with Russia are worth the loss of our own sense of moral identity. There does come a time when the heart must rule the head. That time is when the heart is about to break.

Has he made this perfectly clear?

1 comment:

  1. I always used to feel the same way about Sevareid's "opinion" pieces. They were delivered in a monotone, and even if one read the text they were so full of qualifying and imprecise words that it was impossible to actually figure out what he was saying. It's good to hear that others felt this way too.

    The Philip Roth piece really nails it. I'll have to read that one of these days.