Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion – David Brinkley

This was a quickie fill-in book which I’ve had on my shelf for a while; it finally made its way to the top. When I originally picked it up wherever I picked it up, I thought it would be a brief memoir of some sort – but what it actually is is a collection of a number of the one-to-two-minute closing commentaries from This Week With David Brinkley from 1981 – 1996. Something a little lighter, so that viewers did not come away from the show too down-hearted after all of the talk of recession and murder and drugs.

And some of these are very light-hearted – like the story of the boy (in New Haven, CT – I don’t think I remember that) who ran away, and took up residence at the bottom of his apartment building’s elevator shaft. He leeched power for a small TV and, I believe, a hot plate, and was only discovered because building residents wondered why the elevator smelled like hot dogs every night. Some are more thoughtful than cheery, such as a note on the death of Benny Goodman in 1986. And:

August 30, 1987
If anyone still thinks this is not a crazy world, look at this.

In 1945, during World War II, there was an Army captain in California named Ronald Reagan. He was turning out public relations movies and still pictures for the military. He ordered an Army photographer to go out and take some pictures of women doing war work. The photographer found a young woman working in a factory making communications gear; she was quite attractive and her name was Norma Jean Dougherty. He took twenty-five pictures of her. They were so well received she left the factory and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe…

I never knew that – particularly that Reagan was involved. I love it. (Dougherty? I thought it was Baker. *Goodsearch* Oh – I didn’t realize she’d had that many marriages…)

But they aren’t all filler and light-hearted; in fact, most are opinion pieces on events in Washington and more localized politics. At first I wasn’t too thrilled by the then-timely now-contextless commentaries – but then I realized that a great many of them are still timely, and for the ones that aren’t it’s strangely fascinating to read about something that was screamingly urgent and vital twenty years ago which is barely a blip on most radar now. Perspective. And it’s oddly comforting to read something like this, from December 26, 1982:

We might all hope that 1983 is a good year in all respects, 1983 standing alone, because it doesn’t need any troubles of its own. It will inherit enough from 1982, and none of them will go away at midnight this Friday. The year 1983, for example, will inherit a recession spread around the world – 12 million unemployed, the first soup kitchens we have seen in a generation. It will inherit a Washington establishment spending close to $200 billion it does not have; a Congress that would like to bail itself out by raising taxes but can’t; a Social Security system that if not rescued will very soon run out of money; and various industries – automobiles, steel, and so on – devastated by imports at least equal in quality but lower in price. And more. Our town here, Washington, regardless of who is in power, cannot fix all of this. But after a generation of promising to solve every social economic ailment, it has led people to expect Washington solutions, and so it will try a number of them. The good news is that the mathematics of probabilities shows that if they try hard enough, sooner or later, by accident or otherwise, somebody will do something right. It does seem that it’s time, preferably in 1983, for the probabilities to go our way.

Make all the numbers, dates and dollar amounts, bigger: Things don’t really change. Comforting, and also scary.

August 3, 1986

Next week Congress will be voting to set a new and higher federal government debt limit, to give the Treasury power to borrow still more money.

Sound familiar?

And, in addition to talking about how the Presidential campaign idiotically began some 18 months prior to election day – a development I thought was more recent – there was this:

October 30, 1994

In the race for a Senate seat from California, it appears that the two candidates – Dianne Feinstein and Michael Huffington – will set a new world record for campaign spending. Before it’s all over, $40 million, maybe? Or more?…

– I found a reference stating that Huffington spent $28 million. $6.3 million was apparently his own money. Bob Schuman, Huffington’s campaign manager, said, “(Sen.) Dianne Feinstein has spent over $30 million since 1990 and we will never, in the course of this campaign, match her spending.” Just for comparison, the dreaded (or at least dreadful) Linda McMahon spent over $50 million last year (her ads running until I was wishing for her to come down with something painful and disfiguring) – and lost. (O God, spare me: she’s running again.) Connecticut’s a bit smaller than California, but the value of a dollar is down a good bit since the 90’s, so … I have no idea how that washes out.

…So to run in a big state you have to be rich or have rich and generous friends. He has his family’s oil money and he’s been spending it hand over fist. He’s spending more than $20 million to win a job that in six years – if he wins – will yield less than one-twentieth of what the job will cost him.

Is anyone who will make a financial deal like that qualified to handle the public’s money?

I wish I had said that. Wait.  I have – just not as well.

That happens quite a bit in this book. It’s sharp and smart and often funny, and surprisingly relevant. I was wishing for more like the boy in the elevator shaft, but what I did get was, in its way, more useful.

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