Sam Smith – It’s been my long held thesis that few things have altered American politics more than the arrival of television’s popularity as a source of news and opinion. As noted here before, for example, it had a profound effect on political corruption. Prior to television, corruption was a feudal arrangement i.e. politicians were permitted corruption but it was assumed that they paid back to the people in services. With television advertising, service to the voter took a distant back seat to image as seen on TV supported by huge sums of advertising money largely unrelated to the average citizen.
Even more serious was the arrival of cable news domination. Both CNN and Fox began during the Reagan administration, a fair time to designate as the start of America’s modern decline. And MSNBC began in 1996, in the midst of the Clinton years – a time that marked by the decline of the Democratic Party.
But it all really began with the first presidential debate on television – between Richard Nixon and John F, Kennedy in 1960. Kennedy’s performance clearly gave him the edge on TV, but at least one survey indicated that Nixon had proved more popular on radio.
These thoughts come back to mind because I recently discovered a poem I wrote in October 1960 that showed I was already worried about what television was doing to politics:
I’ll Take My Candidate Without Cream or Sugar, Thank You
Pollster, spare that candidate.
Give him a chance to run.
Free from all percentage points,
Safe from statistics’ gun.
Make-up men, leave them alone
Stop your foolish fixin’
Just look at the mess you made
Painting Mr. Nix’n
Television men you goofed,
You made the veep too hot.
You brought poor Dick cruel age
With a misdirected spot.
Ghostwriters, I do not care
How you’d run the States.
Just let me hear the voices of
But Dick and John are hidden
A glance is all I see.
With too damn many people
Between those two and me.