I grew up with Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News. His unofficial title of “The most trusted man in America” is well deserved. He always told it “the way it was.” Why is it we don’t find people like that anymore?
Cheryl and I were both saddened to hear of his passing last week at the age of 92. I put my favorite quote in a past posting where he commented on the moon landing as “Oh boy!”
He was a simple man, who grew up like my parents during a tougher time. Was it really tougher? Or was it just leaner? What was it about that time in America that led Tom Brokaw to call them the “Greatest Generation?”
Many were hungry, more were out of work. Unemployment had hit 25%! And that at a time when pretty much only men worked in America (at the jobs they would have been counting anyway). Many institutions failed: Wall St., Public Assistance, Banking, etc… Remember, that was a time before Social Security, before Medicare and Medicaid. There was no Unemployment Insurance, no FDIC, no fall back plan for anybody. No wonder there were runs on banks! People were in a state of hysteria and with good reason!
Walter, like my folks, was a young man (my parents were actually just kids) during this time. He saw it all first hand. He was already in the Newspaper business at that time. He would naturally have been interested in the “Human element” in the story. That was pretty much the only angle on that story anyhow.
Until FDR’s election in 1932, the government (the Federal Government) floundered, trying to figure out what to do. They basically did nothing. But, were they even expected to do anything? We forget that prior to this disaster in our country, the reason most of those “institutions” that I listed above didn’t exist was because it was considered the job of “Business” to support the poor, the Orphans, the widows and so on. They did this through the institution of The Church.
So, why did people lose hope then? The Church certainly did not cease to exist during the “Great Depression?” No, it did not. My speculation is simply that it was overwhelmed quickly and its collective resources exhausted, and with the failure of many businesses, there was no replenishment of resources. Churches did continue to operate, they put up “Soup Kitchens” and such. I imagine that organizations like The Salvation Army and The Goodwill were active and helping to obtain and distribute clothing and other necessary items. There simply was no place to house all the homeless, the displaced, the vagrant.
How quickly does one lose hope in that kind of circumstance? How is hope restored? I find it odd that FDR is never ranked very highly among former presidents. To me, he was the one who brought hope back. His idea of the “New Deal” (read that BIGGER Federal Government) was brilliant. I am not particularly fond of big government, but I think history has proved FDR correct in that the government must be involved in the private equity sector. There must be regulation, there must be participation.
So, Walter Cronkite grew up with this, he was an eyewitness. He viewed it and saw it for what it was, and for what it did for this country. He correctly judged that it was what pulled America out of the mire, and made us into the great nation that we are today. I think that’s what gave him his great sense for history and the dramatic aspects of it. We forget quickly that not only was he a “Newsie” but also a student of history (“You Were There” and “The Twentieth Century” dramatic history recreations were Cronkite’s ideas).
It begs the question: Should we all be happy go lucky and go about our daily lives with heads buried in the sand, not worrying about much of anything but relying on “the government” to keep us safe? Or, should we all be like Walter Cronkite and study history, trying to learn from it and intelligently project our voice out there so that we can influence our world and those around us?
I think I know which answer Walter would give us.
God bless you Walter Cronkite – you were an inspiration to all of us!