The chirpy ABC radio newsreader’s lead story was the death of comic Richard Pryor. Only after playing a taped bit of a Pryor routine did ABC segue to a mention that former Senator Eugene McCarthy died at 89.
I don’t mean to minimize the death of Richard Pryor. Yet, the entertainment-focused priorities of a supposed news report is jarring.
Gene McCarthy entered the Presidential race in 1968 to challenge the Johnson’s administration Vietnam war policy. Opposing the sitting President of his own party, McCarthy’s action was politically unsafe and against conventional wisdom. More savvy politicos — such as Senator Robert Kennedy — watched from the sidelines to see what would happen. When the country responded to McCarthy’s anti-war call, the more skilled “leaders” joined in. Ultimately, President Johnson decided not to seek re-election, Senator Kennedy was assassinated, the Chicago Democratic convention erupted with riots, Richard Nixon was elected President, the country spent six more years determined to extricate itself from Vietnam, and cynicism replaced the WW-II-spawned trust of leadership as the instinctive reaction to Presidential statements. Some of these changes would have occurred without Senator McCarthy. But, none of them would have occurred exactly when and how they did without the Senator’s bold steps.
Gene McCarthy’s idealistic anti-war stand changed the country. Throughout his campaign, he seemed genuinely focused on his public policy goals. His motivations were exactly what he stated. There was no measured guile or hidden purpose.
I’m struggling to understand the news judgment which placed Pryor’s passing on top of the news heap. Was it because Senator McCarthy was 89 and Richard Pryor was only 65? Was it because McCarthy “lost” an election and Pryor never did? Was it because ABC’s Disney corporate parent values play over politics? I don’t know.
Gene McCarthy demonstrated yet again that a determined, honest man can change the unalterable and bring down the invulnerable. My thanks to him, regardless of where he fits into the Disney scale of importance.