Former Reagan campaign manager speaks out against “talk jocks”
In an interview with the LA Times on Sept. 20, Stuart Spenser, who ran Reagan’s “four successful campaigns for the late governor and president, laments the state of politics and punditry.” He told the Times,
The Republican California political guru who crafted four successful Ronald Reagan campaigns, two for governor and two for president, does not watch Fox News or its conservative bobblehead pundits.
Fox News has an agenda, 82-year-old Stuart Spencer said over breakfast in Palm Desert, where he and his wife make their home. Same is true of MSNBC, he said. One goes right and the other goes left, and Spencer doesn’t see why those interested in educating themselves on matters of national importance would turn to either for reliable information.
It’s hard, Spencer said, to pinpoint exactly where we went off the rails. There have always been cultural and social changes in the nation, he said, and over time the differences of various regions became more pronounced. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and cohorts exploited that when they tried to commandeer the policy agenda by acing out Democrats, Spencer said, and he thinks current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is doing the same to Republicans.
I asked Spencer if part of the problem is the growing influence of money, which makes politicians more beholden to special interests and therefore more divided. Maybe, he said, but money was always a factor in politics. Today there’s also a different kind of money in play: the fortunes that TV and radio broadcasts make by having gas bag commentators fan the flames day and night.
So, what are his thoughts on the (in)famous pundits:
Rush Limbaugh –
“When I had a place in Oregon, I’d drive 25 minutes and [Rush] Limbaugh would be on three different stations,” Spencer said. “I couldn’t get rid of the son of a. . . .”
Acquaintances would ask Spencer about Limbaugh’s brilliant observations, and Spencer would politely say he never listened. His astonished pals, knowing how close he was to the Gipper, would demand to know why not.
“Because he’s an ass,” Spencer would say, only he added a second syllable that makes the insult unprintable in a family newspaper.
Keith Olbermann of MSNBC –
Spencer wants reason, not rants. He wants substance, not smirks. He has no interest in watching one side lob grenades at the other in nightly warfare that further divides the nation along cultural and political lines.
Glenn Beck –
Spencer can’t watch the maudlin Fox host, who blubbers over the destruction of the nation by a president he calls a racist.
Chris Matthews –
Spencer said the last time he appeared on “Hardball” with motormouth Chris Matthews, the host asked a question and then interrupted before Spencer uttered two sentences. So he’s scratched that show too.
Reagan was himself at times a divisive and hypocritical leader whose debacles, including the Iran-Contra scandal, have been obscured by years of myth-making. But he was civil to his political foes and built lasting relationships, political and social, with the Kennedys, among others. He worked closely with Sen. Ted Kennedy on budget matters and international disarmament, and with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on the end of the Cold War.
The tenor was different then, Spencer said, recalling that on Thursday nights, Reagan invited Democrat Tip O’Neill, the House speaker, to the White House for hours of storytelling and problem-solving.
It was a time when you sat down with your political counterparts and tried to find common ground. If the other guy got the best of you, you would look him in the eye and say, “OK, you win. But I’m going to get you next time.”
In Sacramento, Spencer said, “you could fight all day and then go have a cocktail with the other side at night.” His fix for California’s intractable budget mess would begin with redrawing legislative districts.
“The first thing I used to tell a candidate was that he had to fit his district,” Spencer said, but the districts are now drawn to be safely to the right or safely to the left, so moderates never get out of the blocks and Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on the time of day.
If today’s heated and often absurd “talk jock” rhetoric causes a long time Reagan trusted adviser to choose only to watch CNN and PBS news because of the silly partisanship and self-serving outbursts, then maybe the rest of us should listen…and maybe follow his example. And, in fitting with my own personal crusade, redraw the current insanely gerrymandered districts.