Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Losing Middle America

The turning point in the Vietnam war, at least from a public support perspective, has often been attributed to the decision in 1968 by then CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite to come out against the war. An the end of his evening news report on February 27, 1968, Cronkite concluded an uncharacteristic commentary criticising our involvement in the war with the following words:
"To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."

Upon being told of Cronkite commentary, President Lyndon Johnson is quoted as saying "That's it. If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

Last night I think I witnessed a similar turning point, not in American opinion concerning the Iraq War, but rather concerning global warming. On his nightly Late Show, comedian David Letterman launched into an uncharacteristic tirade concerning CO2 levels, global warming and human prospects for survival that skirted the border between comedy and drama. Opining that we have not had any real Presidential leadership on global warming for the last 30 years, Letterman concluded his discussion of current climate change with the following:
"We are so screwed. If everybody in the world right now began riding bicycles... Leave your limo in the garage...Everybody...bicycles, and we cut carbon emissions 100%. No more carbon emissions. And that was improving the layer of carbon around the atmosphere. If everybody did that, the planet... and you're thinking, "That would be great wouldn't it?" Yes it would be great, but the planet would continue to heat at precipitous levels for 60 years. We are SO screwed."

If "Mr. Middle America" David Letterman can come out so forcefully against obfuscators of the perils of climate change, can overwhelming public opinion be far behind?

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