Recently Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney defended his Mormon faith, hailed America’s Judeo-Christian tradition, and scorned bigots pining to drive religion from the public square. His tour de force wasbrilliantly written and passionately given. Such amalgams are hard to find.
Romney’s address occurred at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library. The candidate was introduced by the former President: if not an endorsement, a laying on of hands. We may have been Present at the Creation of the next U.S. Presidency. For one day, Romney was a rhetorical Burning Bush.
Eastman Kodak once hyped a Kodak Moment. The ex-Governor’s address was a Political Moment, aired by three television networks live. When Lincoln died, many didn’t know for weeks. Today a political moment freezes instantly, quickly stored in America’s attic of psychic imagery.
By quirk, the week of Romney’s speech the Museum of Broadcast Communications released the 125 “Most Memorable Moments” in political radio/TV history. The wireless debuted commercially Election Night 1920. TV bloomed in the 1950s. Nearly 200 scholars, politicians, and analysts chose events which define, even forge, us. The list relives our lives.
John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination and funeral, 9/11 World Trade Center attack, and first 1960 JFK-Richard Nixon debate placed 1-2-3, respectively. The top 10: 4) Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 “A date which will live in infamy”; 5) 1969’s Neil Armstrong speaking on the moon; 6) 1968 Democratic Convention; 7) FDR’s ”Only thing we have to fear” 1933 Inaugural; Nixon’s 1952 “Checkers” speech; 9) Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I have a dream”; 10) Nixon’s poignant 1974 adieu: “My mother was a saint.”
Aptly, The Great Communicator leads all communicators. Ronald Reagan’s 14 moments evoke speeches like the “Evil Empire,” D-Day 1984, Challenger explosion, and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Other leading takes: his assassination attempt, Walter Mondale debate, Iran-Contra apologia, and 2004 funeral. This list wins one for the Gipper.
Nixon was made, remade, and unmade by television. Au courant are Thoroughly Modern Milhous’ 12 moments, including 4 of the top 15: e.g. debates with Nikita Khrushchev and later Kennedy, “last press conference,” “Silent Majority” address, trip to China announcement, and 37th President’s 37th Oval Office address, resigning his office in 1974.
As President, Kennedy pioneered the live TV press conference. Other “Top 125”ers span his 1960 Houston Ministerial Association speech to November 1963, notably JFK’s 1961 Inaugural, Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs, and 1963 “Ich bin ein Berliner”addresses, and 1961 vow to beat the Soviets to the moon.
Roosevelt fueled politics’ then-budding romance with radio, proving that if vivid is good, personal is better. Greatest hits (four of the top 15) include the first Fireside Chat, Pearl Harbor, first Inaugural, and “New Deal” speech: also, “Rendezvous with destiny,” likening Nazi Germany to “the rattlesnakes of the Atlantic,” 1944 D-Day prayer, and 1945 funeral.
The survey touts each post-FDR President except Herbert Hoover. Among Lyndon Johnson’s 5 moments is his 1968 decision to shun re-election; Gerald Ford’s 3, 1974 first speech as President; Jimmy Carter’s 4, 2000 hostage rescue failure; and George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush’s 5, Desert Storm, Oklahoma City bombing, and post-9/11 address to Congress, respectively.
Kennedy termed the Presidency “the vital center of action.” Many list events are vitally non-Presidential: Edward R. Murrow’s attack on Joseph McCarthy; Birmingham civil rights unrest; and King’s and Robert Kennedy’s assassination: too, Tet offensive, Berlin Wall’s fall, Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, and Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 and Barack O’Bama’s 2004 presidential convention speech. Romney will surely make the list.
Once, lifting his hands, FDR dropped them like a pianist. Speaking, he told an aide, “You have to strike a chord. Then you wait. Then you strike the chord again.” This Top 125 list’s chords do. Ben Franklin said famously, “We are what we wear.” As a would-be next U.S. President showed, politically we are what we see, and hear
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