In 1974, when I was in the 6th grade, then President Ford came to tiny Melvin, Illinois to give a speech in honor of Les Arends, member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 40 years. The only place that could host the President’s speech was the Ford County Fairgrounds grandstand that usually was the location for fair queen pageants and demolition derbies.
Somewhere in a shoebox, I have a very blurry photo of President Ford’s limo entering the fairgrounds. Even though it was a week day, the schools in the county were closed so we could go hear the president speak and honor Les Arends. And even though Ford County (and much of downstate Illinois) is very Republican, this was a time in US history when we were recovering from the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s resignation.
Ford had just pardoned Nixon. And Les Arends had defended Nixon all through the Watergate investigations and beyond. Voters were wondering about the actions of both Ford and Arends.
And yet, my sixth grade teacher urged us to go see the President speak that day. I remember her saying, “Even if you don’t agree with his views or actions, you should go see him. He is still our President after all.”
When President Obama wants to speak to the school children of this country about working hard and staying in school, the far right acts like he’s going to give a recruitment speech for Communist party. Parents plan to keep their kids home from school. Many schools are deciding not to even show the speech. We now live in a country where ministers are telling their congregations to pray for Obama’s death.
So what happened to the “He is still our President after all” concept? Well, I can tell you one thing that happened. We became the country where whoever shouts longest and loudest wins. And where did that come from? Talk radio.
Believe me, I know from whence I speak. I produced and sometimes co-hosted a call-in talk radio show in Terre Haute, Indiana in the late 1980s. After that, I began doing research on talk radio for my graduate work. The early 1990s is when the shift in talk radio began to really start. It was when Rush Limbaugh and others began to take hold. And Howard Stern added to the on-air yelling.
This was also the time when Clear Channel began to emerge. The FCC rules used to be that any one company could only own one AM, one FM and one television station in any one market. This insured multiple voices and points of view on the air waves. The loss of this rule and the closely related Fairness Doctrine meant the loss of multiple voices and points of view.
The loudest and longest yelling few are now dictating the actions of the many in this country. It’s time for the many to politely speak up and firmly say to the yellers, “He is still our President after all.”