Is leprosy funny? Several years ago I was at a movie theater watching a comedy. There was a running gag in the film about a fellow with leprosy leaving behind body parts and frightening people who had dealings with the poor man. Members of the audience howled with laughter. Most of us will never know anyone with Hansen’s disease, as it’s also called. The disease was a scourge for millennia but is now easily treated in our corner of the world. In some more isolated places on the planet treatment isn’t quite nearly as available and I suppose victims aren’t laughing.
I bring this up because frequently I make wise cracks about political opponents when hosting a radio show. A guy wrote me an email one day and claimed he spit out his coffee while laughing about some comment I mouthed. He’s a conservative and was amused. Liberals don’t see the humor, but then they’ll watch Alec Baldwin as President Trump and break into laughs. The only people who aren’t chuckling at all are the Republicans who discover I’m not actually working for their party. My paycheck comes from another source.
Last week a columnist at the Washington Examiner suggested we’re all sourpusses when it comes to politics. Republicans believe GOP leadership in Congress is wobbly. Democrats believe their fellow travelers in government are wusses. News media is another case entirely. After someone unaffiliated with a campus Republican club at a Michigan college passed out Hitler valentine cards the young Republicans holding the meeting were denounced in headlines. The valentine wishes made light of the Holocaust. Nobody was amused. Meanwhile, there are anarchists at Berkeley lighting fires and smashing windows and there are no headlines suggesting Democrats are responsible.
As for wusses in elective office, there are some. Although war veterans like Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Cotton would suggest otherwise, and we’ve got several tough guys serving in local and state government. It may well be what we’re actually seeing is a reflection of ourselves. The TV series “Band of Brothers” is in my DVD collection. Friday night I again watched the opening three installments. The men (and some women as well) depicted in the story harken to a time when there was unity of purpose and some serious toughness. The World War II generation had been nearly starved during the Great Depression and then without question marched off to the killing fields and sands of Africa, Europe and the Pacific.
“Band of Brothers” first premiered in the weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Six weeks before our country was struck by the savages, I had a conversation with my regional Associated Press representative. He was a veteran of the Army and a former news director of KYW-TV in Philadelphia. He explained over lunch my counterparts up and down the East Coast were complaining about the young people on their staffs having a sense of unearned entitlement. My reply was to say they needed once more to go off and liberate Europe. He thought for a moment and then said, “Or something like that.” Sept. 11 appeared to be a call to younger generations. Then the president told Americans they could fight the war by going shopping. He also went to great pains to compartmentalize the enemy.
“Band of Brothers” debuted and you could’ve heard a pin drop. The marketing department at HBO decided the realistic scenes of battle would traumatize the public, which had witnessed the televised horrors of an actual attack. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought at the time. How wimpy do the people in the entertainment industry and government actually think we are? News media pulled the photographs of people tumbling from towers. College campuses set up rooms with puppies and coloring books. For all I know, students get rattles and teething rings when they arrive each semester.
When I tell younger people about the personal sacrifices I made in my early days in media they look at me like I’m telling tall tales. They can’t fathom if you want to try and get ahead you put in long hours to get the story not because you expect overtime but because you expect to be recognized for the big scoop. Proficiency demands practice, sacrifice, long hours, self-denial and sometimes suffering. None of these things guarantees success, but without them you surely won’t get far (unless you’re a pretty blonde in the TV news game, but remember you’re competing with a lot of other good looking people and the hard work will get you more notice).
Saturday I was saddened to read the wife of syndicated newspaper columnist Cal Thomas died. Mr. Thomas posted the news late morning. The two had not long ago celebrated 50 years of marriage. Thomas is somewhat of a mentor. We’ve never personally met but have several mutual friends and for many years I’ve exchanged pleasant messages with the man. His column is the most widely syndicated in the country. His radio commentary is heard on 300 stations. As a writer he has a dozen books to his credit. And he still has time to periodically offer me advice. He has shared with me his books and columns are not big money makers in the modern media universe. Now 75 years old, he’s still working and maintains a grueling public speaking schedule. During the first 15 years of his marriage his career languished. He was 40 when his first big break came along. In comments posted yesterday he remarked marriage isn’t always easy. “Love today is seen as a feeling. But real love is a commitment, a covenant. That’s why most of us take marriage VOWS, not promises,” he wrote.
Thomas was born during World War II. The United States clearly was a far different culture in those days than what we see now. I would best describe the widely syndicated columnist as a traditionalist. In his religious convictions, his spending habits and in what he demands of himself. It would appear at least four generations of Americans have come along without any experience of what are called traditional values. As I write this Sunday morning I’m reminded about something my pastor said today. We’re all looking for scapegoats. In our own sense of victimhood we blame the boss or a spouse or the wusses in Congress. And we’re all guilty. “Expect the best, prepare for the worst and take what comes,” is a quote a guest used on my show last Thursday morning. Immediately I thought of my best friend from childhood. It was his quote beneath his class picture in our senior yearbook. My friend is a dairy farmer and hasn’t had a day off since 1981 (he had back surgery that year and then quickly was back on the job). I’m not surprised almost four decades elapsed between sightings of the quote.
There aren’t days I wish life was easier. I wish it all days. However, after 55 years I think I’ve come to the conclusion I’m on my own. I can only rely on friends, family and government to a point. Meaning overall outcomes are in my own hands.