Some Straight Talk

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President Andrew Johnson once referred publicly to a group of people as "God-forsaken and hell-deserving, money-loving, hypocritical, backbiting, Sunday-praying scoundrels."

It’s too bad today’s politicians don’t have the nerve to talk straight. If you try to pin them down simply on where they stand on an issue, most of them evade you like a greased snake. It’s difficult to listen to most politicians talk without nodding off. They are jammed full of bromides and platitudes.

The press is no better. Where is the editorial that lays the whistling lash on the back of a bad guy or a bad policy? Where is the editorial that thunders its approval? Most editorials read as if they had been written by a Victorian English parson and then edited by a pack of lawyers.

Johnson — whom I’ve been reading about, if you’re wondering why I bring him up — was described by his contemporaries as a blunt talker, tactless and utterly fearless. Warned that he would be assassinated if he spoke in a certain town, Johnson mounted the platform and said, "I’ve been told that part of these proceedings involve shooting, so I think we ought to get that out of the way first." With that, he pulled a pistol out of his pocket and stared down the crowd. There was dead silence. After a few minutes, Johnson put the pistol away and said, "I guess I was misinformed." Then he proceeded with an uncompromising speech.

With the exception of two senators and one member of the House — all three former Marines — you can’t even imagine a modern politician doing that. One hint of a threat and the politicians scamper like scalded dogs. They have more hired guards than most dictators.

We have developed an anemic political system because the great majority of candidates believe in only one thing — getting elected. They raise money and hire public-relations people to sell them to the gullible voters like soap.

The last two great presidents we had were Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. Both were 19th-century men. Starting with Jack Kennedy, politics became nothing more than marketing. As likable as Ronald Reagan was, there was a gap between his speeches and his policies as wide as the Mississippi River.

The party system in this country is as dead as roadkill. Neither party has an organization independent enough that a candidate would have to go to it and seek its support. Today, candidates rely on paid advertising, and the party organizations do nothing but raise money and tag along behind the candidates.

Party platforms are meaningless. The conventions are nothing more than a dull television show. The only cure for this situation is to abolish all primary elections and return to state conventions. The old smoke-filled back rooms were better at choosing candidates than the handful of bored people who turn out to vote in primary elections.

This is a serious problem, provided Americans wish to remain free. Under today’s system, the big-money people pick two horses, and we the voter get to choose between Big Money A and Big Money B. Just as George Wallace once said, there’s not a dime’s worth difference between the two parties. Huey Long said the same thing previously. Both men got shot.

The most obvious example of this was the race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1976. We had a choice between Ford and Henry Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller’s foreign-policy adviser, or Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, David Rockefeller’s foreign-policy adviser.

Truly democratic politics and political correctness don’t mix well. Political correctness belongs in dictatorships. A free people ought to be able to think and say whatever they please. Of course, our main problem is that our politicians choose to say nothing.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2007 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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